community in the mirror
All the time, I hear talk at church about community. Building community. Fostering community. Reaching out to the community. This community. That community.
If the Church hopes to engage the world around us, we need to have a healthy community amongst ourselves to welcome people into. That makes sense, right? There is a delicate balance between building up those currently in our church bodies while not neglecting those that our outside of our bodies looking to see what we offer. Both need to happen for us to be effective in fulfilling the Great Commission.
When I was in junior high, I was taken to church by a woman I barely knew. And then, through several years of high school, I went with the family next door. Since my family did not attend church with me, I always felt like the odd person out. Who would I sit with? Would anyone notice if I wasn’t there? Would anyone say “hello” when I walked in?
And while the church I attended was far from perfect, the community that I found there consistently drew me in, and that welcome brought me back week after week—long before I would become a Christian and way long before I would understand my need of community.
My love for the LGBTQ community has caused me to consider what it would take for our church bodies to be attractive communities that draw people in and not shut them out. Ah, ah, ah . . . don’t immediately tune out because you think I’m heading down the path that says welcoming people is the highest good regardless of doctrine—because hopefully, if you’ve read anything else I’ve written, you know that is not the case.
But since I feel fairly confident that that is your initial response, I want to challenge you. Do you care about our church bodies welcoming people into community? Or do people have to think what we think, dress like we dress, and talk like we talk before they can really be let in?
And are we the kind of community people should be drawn into, or do we have a lot of “family baggage” that we need to take care of first so that we can love well?
My husband would point out here that I am really talking about two separate things:
Fostering community internally.
Growing a desire within our community to then reach out and draw others in.
Ultimately, I desire to see us reaching towards my LGBTQ friends. As I mentioned above, I know firsthand how inviting a healthy community can be. So to that end, I have a few thoughts about our internal community as churches with action items for those interested in next steps.
Community is not natural for us; we are raised up to think individualistically.
Community speak is the language of the Bible. The Old Testament was written to the people group called the Jews and the New Testament written to the people group called the Church.
Community development does not just happen 98 percent of the time; it takes work to initiate.
Community also takes a lot of ongoing work. Take a read through all the “one anothers” in Scripture to see how we are really supposed to treat each other—obeying those commands takes effort.
Community and people are the primary tools God uses to sand off our sharp edges and conform us into His image—this process is essential for us to be able to grow.
So if community is essential and necessary for me to thrive as a believer, I want to rub my brain cells together and ask myself:
Do I have the necessary community around me to help me thrive, be sharpened spiritually, and be held accountable to live a godly life?
Does my church breed healthy community inside its walls?
As I gaze inward at myself, I can ask some reflective questions:
Do I have people in my life who regularly see me and really know me?
Do people around me have the freedom to speak what they see about my life, or do I make them afraid to share?
Do I open the Scriptures with people and allow the Holy Spirit to speak through the words written there?
Do I have people around me that have committed to walk the road with me long term.
Do I have people that I am genuinely vulnerable with? Cry with? That I allow to see the ugly?
As I gaze inward at my church body, I can ask some more reflective questions:
Does my church routinely have people up front that share honestly about their lives?
Does my church provide space for and encourage smaller groups to gather, read/study, and pray together?
Does my church ever confront people about behaving in community destroying ways? (i.e. harboring bitterness, being angry, gossiping, encouraging cliques)
Does my church provide for larger community times, celebrations, meals, and retreats that can be an on-ramp for those seeking friendships and deeper connection?
Do I feel genuinely cared for by my church body?
Do I see my church body actively caring for others?
I want to encourage us to think critically about our church bodies because it matters. It matters for how we develop in godliness, and it matters for how we develop others.
I see in the Trinity a movable, loving, and respectful community that is inviting others in. There is mutual respect between its members. There is care for those outside its sphere. There is concern for purity. There is desire for the common good and common glory. There is effort.
What an amazing visual aid for us. This picture inspires me to keep seeking, investing in, and pushing for godly community.
Next week, we will discuss how our healthy communities can reach out and stand as inviting bodies of believers.