MIDLAND, TEXAS—You know the story. Peter denied Jesus three times and returned to his former life of fishing for fish. Then Jesus showed up. His one agenda: restoration. Like the rest of humanity, Peter was not exactly seeking Jesus, but that didn’t stop Jesus from seeking and finding him. Funny how Jesus shows up when we least expect or desire him. “Even when we are faithless, he remains faithful.” (2 Timothy 2:13)
After giving some pretty bizarre fishing tips that proved to be successful, Jesus then enjoyed breakfast with Peter and his fisherman friends. The restoration process has started, whether Peter and his friends realized it or not. Over the years, I have found that restoration mixes well with food. After starting with food, the next step in the restoration process is to ask a good question and repeat it until the heart is pierced.
“Peter, do you love me?” (John 21:15,16,17)
Good questions are often pointed and painful. They are also often avoided, deflected, and left unanswered. That’s why they need to be repeated three times or more.
This story teaches us that when we have taken underperformance to a whole new level, when we have failed gloriously, and when we have totally disappointed God and others, Jesus’ first question to us is not about our performance, our disobedience, or our failure. His first question is about our relationship with him.
“Do you love me?”
Notice that Jesus did not ask a theological question. He did not ask an organizational question. And he did not ask a missional question. He asked a relational question. This is not to suggest that theological conviction, organizational unity, and missional direction are unimportant. It is just that they are not primary when it comes to restoration.
“Do you love me?”
If we get the relationship restored, then we can have serious and productive discussions about theological nuances, organizational structures, and missional strategies.
It is common to frame church splits and ministry conflicts as theological, organizational, or missional disagreements. Reality has taught me that the root issue is usually relational. Because we do not want to face the pain of relational honesty, we cop out and hide behind theological smokescreens. Rather than working through relational offense, we split and blame it on the mission and vision.
At times I have been criticized for being too relational and not organizational enough. After trying my best to correct this, I was then criticized for being too organizational at the expense of being relational. If that is not confusing enough, I have also been criticized for being too theological and not missional enough. And for being too missional and not theological enough.
I concluded a long time ago that since I cannot please everyone, then I would only live to please One. I have also come to the conclusion that pleasing him requires me to prioritize relationships. And if we get the relational part right, we will be able to fix whatever theological, organizational, and missional problems that arise.