Thursday, February 18, 2021

Four H’s for Forming Strong Relationships

Growing up as a suburban kid, I heard about something called 4-H Clubs. All I knew was it had something to do with young people raising farm animals and competing at state fairs. Later I learned the 4 H’s stand for Head, Heart, Hands, and Health, things that should concern all of us. But recently I read about a head coach in the NFL who has a different kind of “4H club.”


Kevin Stefanski, who guided the Cleveland Browns to its best season in decades, builds teamwork and camaraderie using the four H’s of history, heartbreak, heroes, and hopes. Judging from the fact his team posted a winning record and reached the playoffs – a feat last achieved long before some current fans were even born – Stefanski’s approach must be working.


Drawing from experience in mentoring and discipling men, I can see how this can be very effective. In fact, these H’s could be utilized in many ways for building relationships and fostering better understanding among friends, work associates, church members, even people from different ethnicities and social backgrounds. Consider:


History is not only a personal chronology, but also can reveal important information about our backgrounds and life experiences. Each of us has known heartbreak in our lives; some of it we sweep under the rug or put in the rearview mirror as we move on, but other painful experiences linger and need to be addressed. Some heroes are just individuals we admire, but others inspire us, helping to provide vision and goals for our own lives. And without hope, any of us can easily fall victim to discouragement and despair.


One of our problems in society, I’m convinced, is we really don’t know each other. Relationships are superficial at best, fulfilling a certain function but little more than that. What difference could it make with your coworkers, neighbors, fellow church members, folks in your small group, or the person you meet with occasionally for coffee, if you started learning about his or her history, heartbreak, heroes, and hopes?


Within the Christian tradition, the personal testimony can address these areas. We can describe our lives before and after giving ourselves to Jesus Christ; pain we’ve endured and how faith has helped to bring healing; persons we’ve regarded as heroes, models helping to point the way in our faith journey; and the hopes and dreams we have for our future, especially as we follow Jesus.


Several times in the book of Acts, the apostle Paul provided examples of how to do this, explaining his miraculous transformation from zealous persecutor of Christ’s followers into one of the Lord’s most ardent advocates. He told about encountering Jesus on the road to Damascus, temporarily blinded by a brilliant light so he could finally see the truth. 


He reflected on his life before Christ, how he participated in the imprisonments and beatings of many believers, including Stephen, one of the first Christian martyrs. Speaking to Roman officials Felix, Festus and Agrippa, Paul recounted key events in his life, including numerous tribulations and his firsthand experience of what it’s like to be persecuted for his beliefs. They could hear about the difference Jesus had made in his life, turning a one-time enemy of “The Way” into an itinerant missionary who declared, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).


On one particular occasion, the apostle spoke of the calling God had made on his life, underscoring his passion for introducing others to Jesus. When King Agrippa said, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”, Paul replied, “Short time or long – I pray that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains” (Acts. 26:28-29).


A friend of mine would frequently ask people he was meeting with, “What’s your story?” Because we all have a story. And if we’re seeking to follow Christ, it’s actually God’s story in us. What if someone were to ask you, “What’s your story?” How would you respond? What history would you recount? What are the heartbreaks you might share? Who are your heroes – and why? And what hopes do you have?


The risk of sharing such personal aspects of our lives is just that: getting personal, willing to become vulnerable to others. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 we see a wonderful metaphor of the physical body and the body of Christ, the Church:

“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts, and though all its parts are many, they form one body…. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”


Too often we remain aloof from one another, keeping each other at an arm’s length. But by using the four H’s of history, heartbreak, heroes and hopes, we can tear down unnecessary barriers and draw closer to one another as fellow members of Jesus Christ’s “team.” As it says in Galatians 6:2, Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”


Someone might ask, “When should we start?” How about right now? 

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