I was wrong.
There… I’ve said it and I can’t take it back.
I have almost finished the best book I have read about relationships… Which is not a small thing to say because I’ve read quite a few.
It’s also a painful thing to say because it is a book written by someone I was prejudiced against.
I have already acknowledged that I was biased against Bethel church, so it was a bit of a shock to find such balanced, helpful and confronting words penned by one of their leadership team.
Danny Silk has written two books that I now highly recommend.
I’ve already written about the Culture of Honor, but as I now come to the end of Keep your Love on, I find that I am even more challenged.
What I have found so instructive about both books is that they paint a picture of what healthy relationships look like… in detail.
I love the training from Fusion because it is so practical… teaching people how to listen, give feedback, manage conflict and avoid dramas. Silk’s work paints a picture of how all those skills work together to create healthy culture and healthy relationships.
If I am to be honest, part of me would like to write the Bethel church off as “airy fairy” (Australian for not very grounded in reality), but these books show that the leadership of that church have been doing the hard work of naming what it means for people to actually be in healthy relationship.
As I start to acknowledge my prejudice, and announce my “discovery” of Danny Silk, I find that many people have known about him and valued his writing for many years now. Turns out i’m just slow.
The timing of discovering the books has coincided with our sermon series on Ephesians 4, where the Apostle Paul makes it clear that the whole purpose of the church is to reflect the wisdom and nature of the God in whom all things hold together.
Paul’s basic premise is that we are all created as unique, however we reflect the wisdom of God in the way we live our lives together.
As I think about it it shouldn’t really surprise me that Bethel have had to work on how to relate healthily to one another, because the more charismatic edge of the church has a strong focus on the unique gifting of God for each person… which creates a very big headache unless relationships are managed well.
So… I was wrong in my prejudice.
Last night I discovered that I have been wrong about something else, and something that has had significantly more negative impact in my life.
I haven’t been very good at keeping the right boundaries in place.. and I have sometimes named my mistakes “ministry”, and felt good about my sacrifice.
It’s not good to have to write that.
As I have read the book I realized that too often I have let people who seem to be “in need” inappropriately set my priorities in a day.
Silk’s core insight is that we need to be intentional about the different levels of intimacy that we share with people. He puts it like this:
You are responsible to manage different levels of intimacy, responsibility, influence, and trust with people in your life. Likewise, you are responsible to honor the different levels of access and influence others allow you to have in their lives. These levels are absolutely righteous, healthy, normal, and good. It is supposed to be like this! It has to be like this. When we expect that we should all have equal access to one another, we are setting ourselves up to violate and be violated.
I used to react against people who talked about an order of priority in life.
I used to be quick to point out that we were to seek first the Kingdom of God and that was the only priority that Jesus spoke about.
I was wrong. It is right to have levels of relational commitment.
Jesus clearly prioritized certain relationships, and clearly didn’t help everyone who needed it. God was clearly his first relationship, however he certainly didn’t treat everyone he met equally after that. He chose 12, and within the 12 he spent particular effort with Peter, James and John.
There are a number of other examples of Jesus establishing inter-personal boundaries, including with his mother, Peter and those coming looking for help.
Danny Silk created a diagram to communicate the necessity to have levels of relationship:
This is a little diagram I created to illustrate the levels of intimacy we need to cultivate and protect with boundaries.
The innermost circle is your core. Some people like to call this the “God Spot,” because He’s the only person who belongs at the core of your heart and spirit. Nobody else knows you and loves you like Jesus, nobody else deserves your heart’s primary allegiance and worship, and nobody should hold the place of influence He holds in your life.
The next level of intimacy is for your most intimate human relationship, your deepest soul tie. Only one person is going to fit into that spot. If you are married, this should be your spouse. If you are unmarried, this person could be a friend, a parent, a sibling, or even a business partner. When you do get married, you’ll face a delicate transition as you move the person who has been on that level back a circle or two and let your spouse take his or her place. This might be uncomfortable, but it must be done. For example, say you are divorced or widowed and have allowed your children to occupy your innermost circle of intimacy. If you remarry and say, “I just want you to know that my children will always be most important to me,” then you are effectively putting your spouse in submission to your children. This will not work out very well.
The further out we go in the circles of intimacy, the more people can fit in them. The next circle contains people like your kids and grandkids, followed by your closest friends. Heading out further, you have good friends, then co-workers, and then acquaintances. Keep going and you find people in the same geographic location, and finally the rest of the human race.
Silk unpacked what this means in practise:
The level of intimacy people have in my life determines how much of myself I will offer them when they pull on the relationship.
If I am chatting with someone from church for the first time and he tells me that the engine in his car blew up, I am probably going to give my sympathies and offer to pray with him for provision.
If I have interacted with the person a few times and know him a little, I will probably say, “Oh I am so sorry. Here is the number to my mechanic.”
If one of my good friends comes to me with the woes of an exploding engine, I may toss him my keys and say, “Here, borrow my car until you can get your car fixed. Take your time.”
If my daughter or one of my sons comes to me and says, “Dad, my engine just blew up.” I will pull out my checkbook to cover the repairs. And finally,
if Sheri comes to me, there is no doubt in my mind that I am talking with the person who will be picking out the color of our next car. Because she is my most intimate human relationship, I am willing to put all my time, money, energy, and resources toward helping her with her problem. After Jesus, she is my greatest priority, and has greatest access to my life.
I must confess that I have let people who are acquaintances take the wrong place in my priority list.
There have also been numerous times when close friends, family, my wife and God have been wrongly moved outwards from where they are meant to be, displaced by my wrong priorities.
At the core of the ability to keep the right relationships in the right place is the ability to “let your yes be yes and your no, no”. (Matthew 5: 37) As Silk says:
In order to be consistent in telling ourselves what to do, we need to be able to do two other things. First, we need to be able to follow through on what we say we will do. And second, we need to be able to say what we will not do. Every “yes” needs to be backed up with action and a clear “no” to everything else.
Reading Silk’s book has challenged me. It has shown me clearly that I still have plenty of room to grow in the area of establishing healthy boundaries.
It has shown me that I need to be more aware of, and protective of, the different levels of relationship in my life.
This is a particularly important revelation for someone who is still adjusting to being a pastor and trying to work out what it means to care well for the people in our church without getting overwhelmed.
You may have already read these books, but if you haven’t I really encourage you to engage with them, particularly Keeping your Love on.