Your key relationships either move you forward or pull you backward.

Nothing organic has a neutral mode. If it’s a living organism, it’s either growing or dying. My car is a machine. It has a neutral gear, but it’s not productive. In fact, it’s not really a gear. It’s a place between the gears that just spins until I want to go forward or backward. Neutral is a place holder, but it doesn’t make progress.

The same principle is true in human relationships – there is no holding pattern. They are either moving forward or in decline. A marriage, for example, is either getting better or getting worse. There is no plateau.

In the past, I believed there were active and passive relationships. But the truth is that without intentional investments any relationship will begin to wane, and essentially come to closure for all practical purposes. This doesn’t mean there was no value or meaning then or now. They are still part of your life’s story.

It’s also true that healthy long term relationships have a “relational back account.” You can draw upon that bank account with fewer deposits, but eventually, deposits are needed or the account runs dry. Not all relationships are meant to be life long, but if they are, they require attention.

As spiritual leaders, we teach this principle to our congregations. We communicate that without consistent communication with God (prayer and Bible reading) that their intimacy with Him will lessen. (This does not apply to their salvation, or God’s love for them, but refers to the state or quality of the relationship.)

The good news is that in the case of an unattended key relationship, you can often rekindle life into the relationship with just a little effort. It can again begin to move forward.

Three Questions For Leaders:

1) Are any key relationships pulling you backward?

I’m surprised by how often I see people remain in key relationships that are a waste of time to negative or even destructive. They stay in them as if that’s just the way things are. From a mean boss to a doctor that just doesn’t care, you are not stuck or trapped. Move on!

Family is one category this does not apply to. There are some tough relationships that you stick it out and fight for restoration. But the others that are negative, if you’ve done what you can, (Romans 12:18) move on!

The idea is to identify any key relationship that is not healthy and pulls you back. Which ones need to be repaired, and which ones do you need to change or let go?

I once spoke with a pastor who described his board chairman as very negative and possessing a critical spirit, but financially influential. It doesn’t matter how much money he has; if he won’t change, make a change. It’s time for a new board chair!

2) Which key relationships are helping you move forward?

If you make a list of the top 15 to 20 relationships in your life – the ones that you spend the most time with and those who are most influential – can you write down how they add value to your life?

This is not a contest to be measured on a scorecard. There is no checklist. And you aren’t evaluating them as if they need to pass a test or hit certain criteria. Relationships are organic and imperfect. That’s what makes them wonderful. But anyone in this group adds value to your life of some kind.

No one in this group is exactly the same. Some encourage you, some inspire, some coach, some challenge, and some simply love you just the way you are. A few of the rare ones do more than one of these things. All of these people make you a better person.

I trust you are either expressing gratitude or investing in their lives in some way, or both.

3) Which key relationships do you help move forward?

Many of your key relationships are mutual by the value you add to each other. Not necessarily equal, but mutual. You both grow and get better because of the relationship. The relationship itself becomes deeper and extremely meaningful.

There are other key relationships that are good, but require one person to do the majority of the investing, at least for a season, and sometimes for a long time.

Without some key relationships where the adding value is largely in one direction, many of us simply would not be where we are today.

In the best of these relationships, this can eventually transform to a more mutual basis. In other cases, you pass on what you have been given, and hopefully one day they will pay it forward.

What key relationships are you investing in that you are the primary giver? In these relationships, you have taken on a mentoring role and the other person is growing because of you. And because of you the relationship is deeper, stronger and better.


Take some time over the next few days to reflect on this idea of relationships moving forward or backward.

What changes do you need to make?