One year I made a resolution to get my hands dirty and grow potted plants on my back porch. It was my first foray into all things botanical.
I went to the garden section of my local Home Depot and selected a variety of pots, an assortment of flowers and herbs, a giant bag of potting soil, and all the necessary accoutrements. Back at home, I carefully installed each plant in its new home, watered them, and placed them proudly on my new potting shelf. I stood back and mentally checked my New Year's resolution as done.
That first week or so, I checked in on my plants and watered them from time to time but before long, I forgot about them. And you can easily surmise what happened: They all died.
I didn't water them regularly. I didn't pay attention to which ones needed direct sun and which did not. I didn't bother to notice when they needed transplanting into something bigger. I didn't care for or nurture them.
The same can happen with relationships in the church.
Community in the Church
As believers, we know we are united to our brothers and sisters in the faith through the blood of Christ (see John 17:20-23). We know we are all family. And many of us desire to have vibrant relationships with our siblings in Christ. We long to have a close community where we meet one another's needs, walk beside one another in sufferings, and spur one another on in the faith.
But too often, we expect those relationships to thrive solely on the few minutes of fellowship time between Sunday school and worship. Like watering a plant intermittently, we expect relationships to grow with minimal time and attention. We consider our "How was your week?" to be the foundation of Christian community. We may talk about our summer travels, the latest illness our child picked up, or the annoying thing our boss did, but seldom do we share about our real struggles, needs, and heartaches. Rarely does anyone know what our lives are like behind the painted-on smiles and stories of how busy our week was.
The book of Acts describes what the early church was like:
"And they devoted themselves to the apostle's teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in the their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people" (Acts 2:42-47).
These early Christians didn't just shake hands and greet one another one morning a week. They shared what they had with each other. They ate together. They knew one another. They lived out the gospel together. They did life together.
And so should we.
Developing Community in the Church
How can we develop such community in the church? How do we get to the point where we "love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor...Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality...Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep?" (Romans 12:10, 13, 15). How do know one another well enough that we can "encourage one another and build one another up...admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all?" (1 Thessalonians 5:11, 14).
Invest time and effort: My half-hearted attempt at developing a green thumb failed due to lack of intention. I failed to invest time and effort into it. I failed to nurture my plants to life. Just like those plants, relationships require time and effort. We have to invest in our relationships with one another in the church in order for them to grow and thrive. This often means spending time together outside of church. It means inviting one another over to our homes for a meal. It means meeting with one another for coffee. It means praying with and for one another. It means studying the word together and urging one another on to live out its truths in our lives. It means serving one another in practical ways. It means checking in with one another. It means doing living life together.
Today, let's commit to doing something at least once a week with someone else in our church family. Who will that be?
Look out for new people: One of the most neglected people in the church are those who are new. If a church has been around for decade or more, many of the existing church members already have connections with one another and they don't have margin to add more friendships. While they may be friendly to new church members, they likely won't make room for them in their lives. Instead, be on the lookout for new people. Make margin for them. Include them. Though they may not have the history with you that others in the church have, start making that history today.
Today, let's challenge ourselves to meet one new family each Sunday. Let's step outside our comfort zones and expand our circles.
Include the Marginalized: New people aren't the only ones neglected in the church, so too are the marginalized. Often families take priority in church life. But what about those who are single, the elderly, or the widowed? How can we include them in church community? Families can invite the single and widowed to join them for meals and holidays. Youth can visit the elderly and do chores for them. Small groups and Bible studies can intentionally mix age groups together. We can look for ways to use the gifts of the elderly in church life.
Today, let's look for ways to include those who are often left on the sidelines of church life.
Set an Example: Community starts at the top. When the leadership of the church takes it seriously, the rest of the church fill follow. When opening up our home and lives to one another is the expected way and rhythm of church life--when the leadership sets an example and regularly connects with the members of the church outside of Sunday worship--the church membership will do likewise. Encourage everyone who serves in church leadership to make an effort to know the members of the church, to invite them into their homes, to connect with their lives.
Today, let's live out community by setting an example for others to follow.
We are brothers and sisters in Christ. May we live our lives connected to one another. May we make the effort today to nurture and cultivate relationships in the church.
Christina Fox is a graduate of Covenant College and received her Master's in Counseling from Palm Beach Atlantic University. She serves on the national women's ministry team of the PCA and is the editor of enCourage. Christina is a conference and retreat speaker and writes for a number of Christian ministries including TGC and Ligonier. She is the author of A Heart Set Free: A Journey to Hope through the Psalms of Lament and Closer Than a Sister: How Union with Christ Helps Friendships to Flourish. You can find her atwww.christinafox.com.