It’s Not About Religion … It’s About (a really crappy) Relationship

Hope that’s not too crass.

For the past 15-20 years, there’s been a very popular catch phrase amidst my faith tribe:

“It’s’ not about religion; it’s all about relationship.”

(Meaning relationship with Jesus.)

So people say things like, “Well I used to go to a church but it was all about religion and not about relationship, so I left it and now I go someplace else.”

We create sermon/teaching series called, “The End of Religion.”

Mostly, that’s great: we want people to know this Jesus, and to be “in relationship” with him.

But I think there’s another dynamic at work.

At some point, I think what people mean by “all about religion” is that a church is demanding behavior from people. Externalities.

And yes: this is not a great thing.

But what troubles me is how people then try to define “relationship.”

Occasionally, I ask people who are “all about the relationship” how they work on their spiritual lives. What I hear is…

  • “Well, my spiritual life isn’t so great…”
  • “I really don’t have time to pray/read my Bible/meditate…”
  • “I pray when I think about it… (which isn’t often)”

In the end, I’m left wondering if people left churches that were “just about religion” just because they didn’t like being told what to do.

To put it another way, religion is not—in and of itself—a bad thing.

In fact, what if we actually need “religion” of some sort to lead us to “the relationship”?

I need the “religion” of communication to maintain the relationship with my wife. I need the “religion” of coffee with friends to cement and deepen connections with them. I need the “religion” of hearing stories about my childhood from my parents to remind me of who I am at my best and most innocent.

What if it’s not so much a matter of “religion v relationship” as it is “good religion that leads to relationship v bad religion that leads nowhere”?

What religion does at its best is to help lead us to the relationship, and then frame that relationship in the most fully-formed beautiful way. It’s easy to just throw the frame away, but it does no good to substitute a “relationship” that you think makes no demands on your time, your self, your thoughts, your attitudes.

That’s not love.

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