I used to only thrive in relationships with people who were just like me. I liked the “me” I saw in them. When I got married to Wendy, things changed dramatically. “Lord, I do not understand this woman. She is very different from me in how she thinks and acts.” My faulty plan to bridge this relational gap was:
- Try to make her more like me
- Get frustrated when I did not understand why she was doing certain things
- Distance my heart from her when she disappointed me
- Try to motivate her with words birthed out of frustration or anger
Wendy tried to implement a similar approach toward me as well. Our relational methods obviously did not work. We did not know it, but we were being set up to become more versatile in how we did relationships.
Versatile means capable of doing many things competently. One of the most important areas to develop versatility is in relationships. The Apostle Paul gives us a key for this in his letter to the Corinthians. (I have put some phrases in bold for emphasis.)
“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
From this portion of Scripture, we learn from Paul:
- He committed himself to be a servant to the dreams of very different groups of people
- This serving is focused on “winning” more people to Christ
- Like a missionary, he determines to understand the culture and thinking of the different types of people he interacts with
- From this understanding, he adapts his behavior and vocabulary to increase the likelihood of a good connection with them
We learn from Paul that we first seek to understand before we seek to be understood. If we are going to influence culture, we must understand the culture we are trying to influence. It will not work for us to simply say, “They’re wrong and I’m right; therefore I can disregard them and disengage from them.” This is not the way of love or wisdom.
But one might ask, “Isn’t an outcome-fueled desire for understanding people just a form of relational manipulation?” Yes, it could be if we care more for our goal than we do for the person. Paul doesn’t advocate the use of a formula in order to influence people. His becoming “all things to all people” wasn’t out of people-pleasing but empathy. When we can walk a mile in our brothers’ and sisters’ shoes, we can understand one another and relate more effectively. Our goal must always be understanding and connection first. Remember, people do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.
Here are some practical steps we can to take to increase our connection and influence by becoming more versatile in our relationships:
- Resist putting negative labels on people or people groups
- Everywhere possible, ask people for their story so you really understand them
- Study those you seek to influence and pursue understanding with curiosity and humility
- Actively pursue relationships with people who are different from you
- Be bold in seeking to win people to the Lord, but see them as people to be loved, not prizes to be won
- Find the “man of peace” in every people group you want to influence (Luke 10:6). This is the person or persons who are responding to your message and want to help you
There is much division manifesting in the world, but we will be peacemakers and influencers as we embrace Paul’s mindset for versatility in relationships.
For more on this, listen to my podcast at the link below.
ABOUT STEVE BACKLUND
Steve Backlund was a senior pastor for seventeen years before joining the team at Bethel Church in Redding, CA in 2008. Steve is a leader developer, joy activist, a revivalist teacher, and as Senior Associate Director, is a key part of the Global Legacy (a ministry of Bethel Church) leadership team. He travels extensively throughout the world encouraging churches and leaders and has authored a number of books.