It’s time to take a relationship inventory


It’s been said that what you’ll look like five years from now depends on two things: the books you read and the people you hang out with.

It’s hard to underestimate the impact of the people around you.

I once overheard one of my college professors make a passing reference to a marketing study of teenagers. Apparently, several high school students were asked to give their opinion on a particular style of jeans. Overwhelmingly, the students thought these were the ugliest jeans they had ever seen! The researchers waited a few months and then returned to the same high school.

They took key opinion leaders — the basketball team captain, head cheerleader, first-channel quarterback, homecoming queen, and student body president — to gave everyone a pair of jeans and asked them to wear them regularly to school for a month without telling anyone why they chose to wear the new style.

At the end of the month, local stores were besieged by students wanting to know where to find the new fashion.

The influence of others does not diminish with age.

Baseball fans know the name of Casey Stengel, famous former manager of the New York Yankees. When Billy Martin took over as manager, Stengel had some great advice for him.

He said, “Billy, on any team there’s going to be 15 guys who will walk through a wall for you, five who will hate you and five who are undecided.”

Stengel then said, “When making your rooming list, always put your losers together. Never share a good guy with a loser. It won’t spread if you keep them isolated.

If you are surrounded by spiritually positive and healthy people, you will find that your own spiritual life and development will be stimulated. The opposite is just as true: there are those who can actually weaken you spiritually, reducing your commitment and resolve.

This is the importance of maintaining a relational inventory in your life at all times.

This is not meant to exclude people who need our influence. As John Maxwell wisely pointed out, there is a difference between helping those with lifelong attitude problems and enlisting them as our close friends. The closer our relationships are, the more influential their attitudes and philosophies become to us.

Consider the life of Jesus.

He cared about everyone, but there were certain people he was attracted to. For example, Jesus took Peter, James, and John aside to be with him at spiritually significant times, such as the raising of a little girl from the dead, as well as the transfiguration where Moses and Elijah came and talked with Jesus. It was also Peter, James and John whom Jesus called to be with him in his most difficult times, such as in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before his crucifixion.

You could also argue that Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were important to Jesus in terms of strategic relationships. An interesting statement in the Gospel of John says: “Jesus loved Martha and her sister [Mary] and Lazarus” (11:5). In fact, Jesus seemed to deliberately direct his travel plans in order to stay at home.

Jesus modeled life as it should be lived, and He understood that some people feed you, and others feed you out of you. You need a balance of the two for spiritual health.

So here is the crucial question: are those around you, in your innermost circle, bringing you closer to Jesus or away from him?

In taking your own relationship inventory, start with the three basic types of people in your life: those who drain you, those who are neutral, and those who fuel your spiritual reservoirs.

Or as a friend of mine said, there is first VIP-Very important people. These people ignite your passion and your faith to live more like Jesus. They make a very important contribution to who you are and what you do. They mentor you, challenge you, invest in you, model things for you. You come away from your time with them energized, energized, ready to try new things and reach new heights. They stimulate you.

Come next VPN— Very neutral people. They may appreciate your spiritual passion, but they do little to stimulate yours. Neutral people can be fun to be around, they can boost your ego, but they don’t add much to the spiritual mix.

You have to be careful with VNPs – they can look innocent, harmless, harmless. But over time, a VNP can allow you to drift down the path of least resistance, and its own passivity, its own lack of passion, will lead you to lower your own expectations, so that you care less, aspire less, and realize less.

And then there is POS“Very exhausting people. They are the ones that sap your passion. They drain your enthusiasm, your commitment, your heart to serve Christ.

At some point, do a relational inventory. Take a sheet of paper and make three columns: one for VIPs, one for VNPs and one for VDPs. Next, scroll through your relationship world, especially your entourage, and put the names of your loved ones in the appropriate category. Be ruthlessly honest about it and don’t worry about others’ estimation while doing so.

Remember that one person’s VDP may be someone else’s VIP. In the Bible, we find that the apostle Paul (at least initially) struggled with Mark, while Barnabas willingly invested time and energy in Mark’s life.

It’s about taking inventory of who these people are you— the feelings that spending time with them arouses in you.

If you don’t have a lot of VIPs, but a lot of VNPs or VDPs…

…you have relationship work to do.

James Emery White


Adapted from the author’s book After “I Believe”: Daily Practices for Vibrant Faithorder on Amazon.

John Maxwell, The winning attitude.

Gordon MacDonald, Restore your spiritual passion.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founder and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His last book After “I believe” is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookstore. To take advantage of a free Church & Culture blog subscription, visit, where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture podcast. . Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.

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