Each of us craves connection with others and to share meaningful life experiences together. But I wonder, how many of us feel the gap between what is described and what we experience. We all love the ideal of a community where people come together to connect and discover new things, but what we’re often faced with is something more isolating, more exclusive, more us and them.
Coffee shops are full of people sitting with friends. Our focus is not on experiencing community from within the coffee shop. It’s about bringing our own niche community into it. ie our friendship group. And it’s not just coffee shops is it? It’s church. It’s our church. We love to think that we’re creating this warm, welcoming ideal of a community, and for lots of people, we are. But could it be that our church is a lonely place for some people who attend?
It’s not intentional but what we can so often get into the habit of doing is treating church as a chance to hang out with our friends, the people who are like us, the people we connect with. And in doing so, we turn our backs on those who we don’t quite click with, or those we simply haven’t spoken to before. And instead of creating a community which demonstrates to people that life is better connected, we leave them out in the cold.
This isn’t the type of community God designed us to have. So why do we default to cliques that are closed to new people? Probably because we’ve learnt that genuine caring comes at a cost. So we’ve put up boundaries to our care, only giving it to close family and friends.
If you’re just exploring faith, you may well feel that’s all you can manage at this point in your life- and that’s okay- there’s no judgement here. Caring for friends and family can be a full time job and if you neglect them, no matter what else you do, you can’t really claim to be pursuing a meaningful relationship with God! However, you may want to take some time to think about how much better the world might be if we all took the advice of Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO who urged his company to “Care more than others think wise.”
On the other hand, if you’re a follower of Jesus, the uncomfortable truth is that a self-preserving, cliquey community is a far cry from what Jesus intended his church to be and goes against all the commands he gave his disciples.
Just before Jesus was about to go to His death, He spent time with His disciples, telling them things they’d need to remember when He wasn’t around. And John, one of Jesus closest disciples, recorded these words in chapter 15 of his account of the life of Jesus:
John 15:12-13 says, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
In this conversation, Jesus is preparing his disciples for what is about to happen to him for their sake. He’s about to be arrested, beaten, mocked and crucified. Talk about the cost of caring! You see, Jesus loved us in this way- He sacrificed all personal comfort and gave his life for us. There is no greater love than that, especially when you consider that the very people who know he gave his life for their sake, can’t even give the time of day to people they don’t know. Jesus’ love had no self-imposed boundaries or restraint. Jesus’ love was, is and never shall be inward focused, selective, or exclusive. It cost Him a great deal and, if we are to display it to the people around us, it will cost us too.
What cost are you willing to pay to follow Jesus and to help others to experience his love?
Questions for Personal Reflection & Small Group Discussion
- Can you think of a time where you felt like you were all alone in the middle of a crowd? How did it feel?
- What could your small group do together to make sure that each member of the group feels like a part of the community?
- What could your group do on Sundays to make sure new people, hurting people, visitors and anyone on the fringes experiences real community at ABC?
- How can you intentionally remind yourself this week to be on the lookout for people to show extra kindness to so that they don’t feel so alone?
- What comforts and preferences might mature Christians have to sacrifice so that new people can come to know the love of Jesus and authentic community in the church?