Friday, February 12, 2016

The Lost Art of Friendship

A few years ago Hubs and I realized that, despite all our efforts, we were seriously in need of community. Friends that we could really do life with, conversations that went beyond the 30-second encounter which almost always ended with "yeah, it's been super busy - but we should definitely get together as soon as things settle a bit." The thing was, it never settled.  It's took us a while to see it because we were so deeply embedded in it, but the church culture we were in promoted busyness in ministry to a fault. I think it was something that church leadership was aware of, because there were sermons on that very subject - but they were often followed by a encouragement to get involved in the next conference, outreach event, serving team, and giving campaign.
We believed in the good work that the church was doing and we could see the fruit from these efforts, so we served anywhere and everywhere we could. At one point, we were serving in a total of seven capacities and leading in four of them. Even with all of that involvement, we felt like we didn't really know anyone well. We came, we served, we went home to take a nap; and, for the most part, so did everyone else.

Before I get much further into this, let's look at the church community in Acts 2.
“All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper ), and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity — all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.”
‭‭Acts of the Apostles‬ ‭2:42-47‬ ‭NLT‬‬
The early church had an incredible sense of community.  They took care of each other when needs arose. They got together for meals and enjoyed the good company of their brothers and sisters in Christ. They actually acted like a family. Sometimes a dysfunctional one, I'm sure - but like a family.

I think it's interesting that the early church grew at the rate that it did, and it wasn't due to good branding, mail-outs, ornately "relevant" events, or even a crazy good worship band. What made the church, and Jesus, attractive to the world? Their joy, generosity, and love for one another.

I am fully convinced that community within the body of Christ is the most effective form of growth, both for discipleship and for outreach.  Intentional community creates room for others to speak into your life and reminds you of the fact that are not alone.  Through community, you are able to get strength and wisdom from others who have been down the path you are on. On top of all that, you gain a greater sense of purpose in Christ and can be spurred on to do that things that God has called you to do for others and for His kingdom.

 I grew up in a church where we did the"passing of the peace" every service. This was a period of time that lasted about 30 seconds (just long enough for the priest to make his way to the pulpit) when everyone was supposed to greet those around them. I've been in several kinds of churches over the years and there has always been a similar element included in the service, even if they called it something different. I never really thought about this practice; it was just something that we had always done. Then we attended a Spanish service. They had the same kind of time built into their service, but it lasted for a whopping 5 minutes.  It was more than hi-and-a-handshake. People were hugging, catching up, and laughing together. What a difference! This is just a small example but it was very evident to us that they had a noticeably different sense of community within their congregation. That's when it hit me - there's a cultural aspect to church. The way we do things is heavily influenced by our national, regional, and even racial cultures.

Maybe this has always been obvious to you, but it was a major discovery for me. Once I'd come to this realization, it begged the question - what else is influenced by our culture? What does our culture prompt us to do, or not do, despite what we read in scripture? After all, the church should be counter-culture if necessary, and not just blend right in. Our culture should never dictate how closely we follow God - in any facet of life.

I thought about how rare it is in our culture it is to invite people into our homes, and how easy it is to hide behind social media to"connect" with people, champion causes, and encourage others with scripture.  I've posted a scripture on my feed or retweeted a sermon quote (that probably wouldn't make a lick of sense to someone who isn't a believer) and subconsciously given myself a little pat on the back for "being a light in the darkness"- but - was I personally reaching out to that person who I knew was going through hell and had seemed to fall of the radar? What's the purpose of commenting on an old friend's photo if you don't actually take the time to grab a cup of coffee with them? Again, posting scripture and commenting on photos is all well and good -but we must go beyond that to truly be the church, salt and light, the hands a feet of Jesus. I think a major flaw in the modern American church (at least some that I have been in) is the concept of what serving God looks like. I'm not saying you shouldn't join a ministry team at church, I'm just saying that it's not the only valid way to serve God. Maybe a co-worker's child is in the hospital and they need support, prayers, and to be shown the love of Christ.  What's more Christ-like: to serve 8 hours that Sunday at church, or to pick up some coffee and bagels and show love to that co-worker?  What's the ultimate goal with those around us: is it to get them to show up at church or just say that we'll be praying for them, or is it to show them the love of Christ in ways that they can experience first-hand?

So here's my challenge to myself to help me put this all this into practice.
    1. When I go to a service or meeting at church, I'm going to come early and leave late so I have time to really talk to people and get to know them.
    2. When a friend mentions something that they need prayer for, I'm going to write it down, pray for them, and follow up with a text later in the week to let them know they are in my thoughts and prayers.
    3. We're going to invite others into our home at least once or twice a month.
    4. Now that I'm a SAHM, I'm going to join some local mom groups so I can get to know people outside of the church.

What about you?  Do have the community around you that you'd like?  What are you doing to make community an intentional part of your life?

Related Post: An Introvert's Guide to Building Community

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  1. We have a weekly bible study with several families in our area, we take turns hosting each week and everyone brings food. We've been doing that for years and love it! I also love that at our church, people hang around for an hour or more after and just visit! Community is important for sure.

    1. That's awesome! :) Studying the word together is a great way to get to know others and what God has done/is doing in their lives! I'm so grateful for my Bible study group and Mom's group!

  2. Your post hit so close to home for me. What you said is something I have noticed in our church too, but you also challenged me to look deeper into what it is that I am doing (and not doing). Thank you!!! I think I might even print this out so I can meditate on it some more about the direction God has for me. Thank you thank you thank you!

  3. Thank you so much for posting this. It hits so close to home because I've never felt really comfortable in church - and your post finally puts into words why that is. Now that I understand what I'm feeling about it, I can address it. Thanks again.

  4. Thanks for sharing this, Ashley. It's so easy to get caught up in our own busy lives but I am often reminded of how much I need community. Like you, I have sometimes had to really go out of my way to look for it. As a family, we try to be intentional about having others in our home on a monthly basis. I also make it a point to set up a lunch meeting with a girlfriend and send occasional encouraging text messages and phone calls. I find that a little effort can go a long way. Wishing you blessings.


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