I am a firm believer that one cannot be a follower of Christ and be alone. Not just that God is with you regardless, but that people are made to live and learn and serve in community. People create their own fictive kinships all the time, whether in the context of the church, small groups, a street gang, the extended family of friends who are your peeps, or the office team.
In fact, I suspect that the reason so many of us develop these secular kinships is that the church doesn’t always do a very good job of connecting people. It’s supposed to just happen because we have fellowship dinners and coffee hours. Or because we offer “life groups” that people can join based on geography or what night they aren’t already over-scheduled.
Is there a way to be more intentional about this aspect of Christian life? I am so very thankful for the long-lasting friendships that have come from some of those random encounters. My best friend and I met because her husband was the first person who greeted my hubby when we visited the church that we came to call home. The guys are so tight that we tease them about the bro-mance that developed as we got more involved in various aspects of the church.
More importantly, we got involved in one another’s lives. We have wept together over jobs and family members lost. We have prayed and worried together – in ERs, waiting rooms and living rooms- over minor and major medical issues. We’ve cleaned each others’ refrigerators and spanked each others’ kids. We have been torn into for the last several years- because now they live a plane ride instead of a bike ride away. But the bond is strong- maybe stronger than ever.
What if that chance meeting had never happened? Would someone have gotten to know us well enough to connect us with them? Probably not. Our church, like so many others has no one looking for ways to connect people to one another or to personal ministries.
Now that I am focused more on seminary schoolwork as my personal ministry, I’ve pulled out of the stuff that was overwhelming my life. Weekly Bible study/small group time, weekly rehearsal for praise band, leading a children’s worship program, attending session meetings and committee meetings- all of these things ate up hours every month. But they but also kept me connected with the people of the church.
I’ve also started attending other churches, so I’m only attending the home church 1-2 times a month. Even though I know most of the people in the building at any given time, I’m experiencing our congregation much the way a new member might. It’s kind of an interesting experiment, really. I don’t get the bulletin updates and announcements week to week, so I’m relying on outsider communications to know what’s happening. Sometimes I hang back before greeting other people, just to see how many make an effort to reach out to me. There are places I attend as a visitor that are warmer than my home church… and even go out of their way to make sure I’m aware of happenings there.
So what is the take-away for my future ministry?
*True Fellowship isn’t a committee, it’s doing LIFE together.
*Every congregation needs to be intentional and continual in offering hospitality. Not only to the visitor, among members.
*Every person needs to be challenged to develop a personal ministry of some sort, in order to develop inside relationships that help them reach to those beyond the congregation.