This is the audio recording of the first reading of week one of Start, entitled Authentically Known.
“Love changes us and changes others. Love takes strangers and makes families. Love heals wounds and empty spaces in us that we never dreamed could be filled.”
We are living in a unique, seemingly contradictory historical moment. On the one hand, we are as connected as ever. We know more about people than any generation in human history. But ironically, all of this connectedness has fractured our ability to connect deeply with one another. Ours is an age rich in the exchange of information but impoverished in the exchange of understanding.
That is a problem.
Add to that frequent geographical moves, insane busyness, and a two-year pandemic, and it’s no wonder many of us are struggling to find places where we are truly known. We aren’t sure what to do differently, so we settle for a pseudo-community based on information exchange (think social media) rather than real relational connection (think substantive face-to-face). Pseudo-community focuses on sharing facts more than feelings and sharing opinions or advice more than listening. It’s an easy default.
The result of all of this is that we know a lot of surface information about others, yet still feel very alone. Many of us find that even our church involvement doesn’t help us develop a real connection with others. Worship services are great for connecting with God, but something more is required to authentically connect with other people.
That’s a big reason why we created Start. This is a place to grow spiritually while also making real connections with others.
What we have lost sight of in our age of pseudo-community is the necessity of nurturing and maintaining authentic friendships with smaller groups of people that overlap with the larger communities we are a part of. Our hope for our church is that Bridgeway would be a place where we recover those kinds of friendships.
Jesus demonstrated the importance of this in the way He spent his time. Thousands interacted with Jesus when He taught in the synagogue or healed in the courts. They received insightful teaching and witnessed miracles. But His twelve disciples, and even those 75 or so that traveled with Him, received so much more. They asked questions, got assignments, enjoyed leisurely meals, argued, endured storms and ridicule, and celebrated holidays together. Many knew Him, but His closest friends also felt known by Him.
Authenticity with a smaller group of trusted people is a critical practice for developing relational wholeness. A different type of bond is formed when we share feelings, show vulnerability, and reveal our true selves (We are more likely to do this if the other person is listening well and practicing empathy, concepts we will explore later in this class).
Being known by a group of friends is possible, and more than that, it is necessary. God made us to depend on each other. Back in Genesis, amidst a perfect creation untainted by sin, God said it was ‘not good’ that Adam was alone. That wasn’t God saying Adam needed a wife. It was Him saying Adam needed companionship. And that is true for all of us.
So where do we begin? Studies in group dynamics reveal that gathering around similarities is the easiest way to have some non-threatening relational connections. Moms can bond over the similarities of their kid’s developmental stages; dog owners can get to know one another while their furry friends play; men often connect while engaging in a shared interest or hobby.
Starting with commonality isn’t bad. It’s one of the main reasons we try to place you at tables with others in a similar life stage. But if we remain connected by affinity alone, we still end up with relationships built around convenience. Relationships of convenience are better than nothing, but God designed us for more. Jesus took a whole different approach.
The twelve disciples and the rag-tag group of followers that accompanied Jesus during three years of ministry were not homogeneous. Pastor Ben Sternke puts it this way, “It would seem if we’re going to build an actual community, we’re going to have to shift from relying on convenient affinity to cultivated affection for one another. We have to move from what is natural (affinity) to that which is intentional and nurtured (affection).”
Paul gives many examples of hard-won affection in his letters to the different churches in the New Testament. To the church in Thessalonica, he wrote, “We were gentle with you. Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, we care for you. Because we love you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only in the Gospel of God but also in our lives” (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8). In Romans 12:9-10, he wrote, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”
The affection Paul describes here is familial. It comes with long familiarity and deep bonds. Every family has squabbles and gets mad, but a healthy family is protective of one another and committed to loving despite differences. This type of affection for one another is not found; it is nurtured and grown.
Jesus perfectly demonstrates for us how to nurture this deeper love and connection with one another. He knew He was deeply loved by the Father (Luke 3:22) and that empowered Him to love others. The gospels paint a picture of His purposeful but not rushed life. He was repeatedly willing to listen deeply, speak wisely, and ask thoughtful, compassionate questions. He was self-assured but not self-absorbed. He spoke hard truth to the Pharisees and lavished grace on the broken. He made His physical and spiritual needs known and regularly let others meet them. He was the regular recipient of hospitality, financial gifts, and meals from Mary, Martha, Nicodemus, and others. He even depended on the disciples in His most profound time of need and asked them to pray for Him at Gethsemane.
Building relationships takes time and commitment, but there are enormous benefits for those who persevere. We look to Jesus as the example and keep moving forward. When we start with affinity and share surface-level conversations, we build the trust necessary to go deeper. And as we build that trust and then bravely share the more vulnerable parts of our lives, like failures and uncertainties, we are bonded by the common grace experienced in Jesus that we are all equally forgiven, loved, and chosen.
Often we don’t get to hand-pick the people in our table groups in classes or even the people in our missional community, but we can remember that each person is chosen and created by God. Those personality quirks that could separate us can invite us to depend on Jesus to mature our character as we extend grace and seek to understand those different from us. And as we stay the course with one another, we can love one another in a way that helps us and others be authentically known. This type of love points to the transformational power of God, and reminds us that we are held together not only by shared interests, but by shared love.
- Take a few minutes and reflect on the quality of your current friendships. Do you feel known and know others well? Why or why not?
- When was the last time you shared a need or struggle and allowed others to meet it? How did that feel? How did others respond?