Being in relationships with other people is tough stuff. In fact, I think it is the primary “work” of the believer. I’ve gone through phases in my relationships with others as I’ve matured and grown in Christ, phases where I was deeply all-in with everyone around me, phases where I withdrew and followed my own path mostly alone, and phases where I have learned to use discernment to allow some people in while keeping others at a respectful distance. Each phase has been tough and has left bruises, but I think that’s just part of living in intentional community with people who aren’t perfect. What’s the phrase that makes me laugh and feel a teensy bit like Oprah when I say it? “Hurt people hurt people.” As goofy and pop-psychology as that sounds, it’s certainly true.
Relationships are dirty, messy, difficult and entirely necessary.
I believe that only in community do we grow in Christ. Relationships are difficult, but if we look around and we are not in relationships with people who are allowed to speak truth into our world, we need to see that as a huge blinking “check engine” light that needs to be addressed. This blog isn’t intended to harp on you if you are in the withdrawal phase of life right now. I get that. I have been there. Sometimes we all feel like we need a break from the drama of relationships with others. But here’s the uncomfortable truth – we can’t stay there. If we stay there, we get stunted. We stop growing. Our influence and ability to be light in a dark world shrinks and diminishes. So I hope my heart comes across and I can use this blog to get someone, anyone, to reconsider their choice to withdraw and to encourage them to push past the discomfort and awkwardness and enter into at least one relationship where Godly wise influence is allowed unfettered access to your life.
But the wisdom that comes from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, then gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. James 3:17 (People who demonstrate this kind of wisdom are “safe” to let speak into your world).
I know it is hard. I have been the person shaking as I picked up the phone or walked into the coffee shop to meet someone. But I also know the fruits of the choice to obey and enter into community. And because I know our God is faithful, I pledge to you that you’ll benefit. And infinitely more convincing than my pledge is the Lord’s promise that if we’ll trust Him and enter in, there He will be found.
As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2
One of the first steps to being in community is entering into a church body. I know someone will shake their head and think “here she goes preaching again” or “sure, just what I need, a room full of hypocrites” and you know truthfully, both of those statements are true. I do tend to preach a bit and I’m certain that every room we enter, whether a church or not, is full to the brim with hypocrites. But here’s what is different, and special, about church.
It is the method Jesus gave to us for changing the world from a place of darkness to a place of light and for growing from self-absorbed to concerned with His kingdom.
Church was built by Jesus for a purpose. And that purpose isn’t to make you feel guilty or to take all of your money, but it is to get you into a place where you can be honest with other people who struggle just like you do, find friendship and purpose and meaning and encouragement, and together you can work to make the world a little less miserable. It’s so important that the church is referred to in the Bible as the “Body of Christ” – we enter more into Christ when we enter into the church and relationships with other Believers (Ephesians 1-3).
Is walking into a new church terrifying? Oh my goodness yes.
Will you maybe feel a bit judged? Well, I always do at first.
But isn’t that feeling, and that terror, a tactic the enemy of our souls uses to isolate us and get us cornered alone somewhere awful so he can whisper lies about who we are and who God is? Absolutely.
I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD. Psalm 122:1
Jesus told us that in church, and in community, we have hope. So it may be awkward, it may be hard, but after creating us, knowing us and walking in our skin it is the place Jesus said we need to be. And after most of my adult life being blessed to be in amazing churches, I can tell you that the relationships I have built there and the things I have learned are far deeper and more meaningful than anything I’ve built or learned outside of that place. Have I been hurt? Yes. Are the churches I’ve attended perfect? Not even remotely. But have I grown and benefitted far more that I have outside of church (by about 1000 times)? Yes.
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24
After you find a church, you’ll find something interesting. You’re going to be a stranger in a strange place until you dive into community. Whether that is a Sunday morning Bible study, or a Ladies group that meets during the week, or just going to lunch with a new friend after church – getting into a smaller group and listening to someone tell you about their life, and then telling them about yours, is essential to being connected. (And a trip or retreat is the absolute scariest and yet most effective way. When I worked in student ministry we begged students and their parents to let them come to camp. In one week of intense time together kids connected and lives were changed every stinking time).
So if you have been “attending” church for a long time but still don’t get it or feel connected, I hate to be the one to break it to you – but you haven’t pushed in deep enough. You have to jump and trust the Lord and His people to catch you. Go to a study. Sit at a table. Stutter your way through saying your name and share something personal and important. Be the first to break the silence and share something vulnerable and then watch the ripple effects as everyone there begins to share and relate. Pray together. Share your needs and listen as others spill open and share theirs.
They will. I promise that the crazy in your head isn’t the most crazy at the table – not even remotely. We all have the crazy and sin and mess inside and sharing it releases us from the power it holds over us.
Isolation is dangerous. We listen to the wrong voices. We start to get really passionate about the wrong kingdom. We start to lose the ability to interact with others in a meaningful way (suddenly our phones or the characters on TV get really important instead of the live human people sitting right in front of us). We need community. It changes us and makes us be about the right things in the right way.
So if you are isolated and you know it – please do something. Please take the first step. If you don’t have a church, I’d love to invite you to our church (Southlake Baptist Church). Please be my guest. If you have a church but you’ve let the hurts of relationship push you away – please go back. Try again. Open up and watch God work and change the way you think and view community. If you have a friend that you have watched isolate themselves out of all meaningful community, reach out to them. Confront them with love. Beg them to reconsider.
He is faithful and His plan (including community) is always perfect.
Trust Him and go.