Build Relationships First

I would guess that both you and I have been tricked, at some point in our younger years, by that infamous test of following directions. At the top of the paper (in bold) are the words: YOU ONLY HAVE FIVE MINUTES TO COMPLETE THIS TEST! There are twenty-five instructions such as: Draw five squares on the back of this paper; Shout your middle name aloud; Count how many single-digit numbers are on this page, etc.

The important instructions of this test, which you are not told, are only in number one, number two, and number twenty-five. Number one says, “Read everything before beginning.” Number two says, “Put your name in the upper right-hand corner.” Number twenty-five says, “Now that you have finished reading everything carefully, do only instructions one and two!” In our haste to win and get a high score, we ignore the traditional read everything first command and we zip along our merry way.

Teams are like this test sometimes—in fact, quite often. Teams are off doing what they are supposed to do, forgetting to heed the main thing. When they get to number twenty-five, unfortunately, they are told to go back to number one, which says: First: Build relationships with your team!


It was my first elder’s retreat as the new pastor of ACTS Covenant Fellowship. I hardly knew the leadership team I had inherited. I knew my first assignment was to obey number one, or I would not be successful as the new pastor of this church. We had some agenda items at that retreat, but they were secondary to all of us learning about each other. I told them, “How can I lead with you if I don’t know you? How can we work together if we don’t know about each other?”

The value of number one was already somewhat in place at ACTS when I got there, but I was assigned to perpetuate it and make it grow. Number one first became our culture and it still is. We are not perfect at it, and we’re still learning how to do it better, but it is at the foundation of most of what we do.

As a foundation for the kingdom culture, no principle is more important than relationship building. I’ve often quoted Theodore Roosevelt’s famous saying: “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” In business, commonly, people will stay at their job long-term if they feel relationally fulfilled, even if they can get better pay elsewhere.

My Customer-Relations Seminar and the Kingdom Culture

To add a bit more insight into healthy relationships within a kingdom culture, let me tell you about my customer-relations seminar. After I did this seminar for a restaurant of about eighty employees, one young server told her employer that the seminar had changed her life. In business, developing customer relations has more to do with who you are, rather than what you do. A customer-service pro is someone who loves people and knows how to express that love.

In many of our marriage seminars, Ruthie and I teach the same thing to couples that we teach in the customer-relations seminars (plus some romantic behaviors that are not applicable for businesses!). At home, we try to develop the habit of smiling when we connect with each other, lots of hugs, and lots of laughs. The kids usually inquire how our day was. Ruthie and I ask about theirs. When I am away for an afternoon, Ruthie never, ever fails to greet me when I come home with a smile, a kiss and a hug—and I, her. It takes a ton of time to hear all about what just happened in our lives while we weren’t with each other, but keeping up with the moment is a high priority to us, therefore, we talk a lot about what went on and what’s going on.

Your business or church can develop an encouraging atmosphere, just like we try to do at home. You might want to bypass the kissing part, but people can be trained to smile, to encourage, to care about what’s going on in other’s lives, to have “kosher” fun, and when someone comes back from vacation, say, “Welcome back!”

From business to marriage, and everything in between, always remember number one—build relationships first!


This blog post is an excerpt from "Kingdom Culture." To grab your copy today, head over to your local bookstore,, or CertaPublishing

If you, your church, your ministry, or business is interested in hosting a Kingdom Culture Conference, please email

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