Loving community. Your people who love you, just because they do. Doesn’t that sound like a nice, safe and happy place to be? I know from my own story, I truly want to be known, encouraged and loved in intimate community. I also want to have mutuality in these loving relationships, each of us freely using and appreciating the gifts and talents God has given us. My life is substantially richer because I do have intimate, loving community with a group of friends in Seattle. Family and friends in other parts of the country tell me, time and again, how blessed I am to have my people. They say Jesus is really obvious in my loving community. (You guys are real Christians, they say.)
I don’t take my people in Seattle for granted; it has been much harder to find community in Colorado. I’ve been told it takes one to two years. God is so kind to have given me a handful of friends here, over time, and because I was community starved, their friendship is all the sweeter. Doing life alone, in a new town, is a hard I didn’t think I’d experience as a follower of Jesus. I’ll just go to church, make some friends, it will be fine. It didn’t happen.
So, I’ve thought a lot about community, during my two years in Colorado. Thinking about how community might more easily happen, has captured my thoughts late into the night. Books like, A Meal With Jesus, suggesting forming loving, Christ-centered relationships around the dinner table, have peaked my interest in doing church and community in new ways. Not that I had anyone to do it with!
Here are a few thoughts on how I would like to approach life in order to be a grace-filled, loving community person for others:
1. God is a sovereign designer, THE Artist of artists, and He designs gatherings of people (church) because He knows what He needs and wants to create within a group of believers. He also knows what the group NEEDS to grow to become more like Jesus. When someone shows up at my church, I will assume God has brought her or him there as part of His fantastic design. I will assume we must need their gifting, their story, their pain, their joy, yes, and even their art, for the flourishing and maturing of our group. When someone shows up at my church or within my group, I want to say, “This is great! I wonder what God is up to. Let’s see who God brought to us!”
2. Who were Jesus’ people? (Who will my people be?) Jesus hung out with people who had hard stories, embarrassing stories. He spent lots of time with those who had been marginalized, abused, were sick, wicked sinners or had special needs. He liked children. He formed community with these people, and He restored these people to their communities. If our personal stories include: brokenness, divorce, domestic violence, loss, addiction, violation, evil, hurting children or chronic illness, Jesus moves in closer. Oftentimes, these folks are the point people Jesus calls to lead evangelism in larger communities. I want these to be my people, too. Do we move in closer, or do we feel uncomfortable and run from these folks?
3. Forming community takes some of our precious time(I don’t think a year or two, however, as I was told in Colorado); it takes eating together, playing together, really sharing our stories with transparency, (who have you really done that with?) and, sometimes, sitting quietly saying nothing. As fast-paced, independent, self-sufficient, overachieving Americans, we don’t have time for sharing a meal, let alone sitting with another, saying nothing. As Christians, we have put our idolatry of achievement, making money, independence, and “being busy” to earn significance, above the Biblical mandate for community, empathetically loving our neighbor, being still, and knowing God. I understand this because I was one of the fastest paced, independent, overachieving, idolaters before several things, including cancer, stopped me in my tracks. I want to work intentionally towards a new normal. Can I relinquish my American idols for the Biblical mandates given to us by Jesus?
I can only speak for myself, but I am going to try to establish patterns to embrace the Biblical call for unity and being a part of the grand design of people coming to know Jesus “by our love for one another,” in place of my idols. And just maybe, this kind of love will replace the cheap idols of self-sufficiency, independence and busyness I cling to. I pray I leave room in my margins of energy for brothers and sisters – to really know and love them. I pray I save some emotional energy, so I can be grace-filled with those folks God brings along my path outside of my usual group of friends. Thus, I pray I leave open spaces in my heart and with my time for new friends in my circle of friends. I want to remember the person who just moved in.
A friend once said, “Watch a military family to see how fast they reach out to others in their neighborhood. They know they have a total of two, maybe three years in their town, so they make friends fast.” It’s typically true. I’ve watched my daughter, Katie, the new person in the neighborhood, bring cookies to all the neighbors because she is working to meet people and form friendships quickly. I marvel at her joyful intentionality!
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. Galatians 6:10