This is the audio recording of the second reading of week one of Start, entitled Church is People, Not Place.
“For where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them."
Several metaphors are used to describe the Church in the New Testament. The two most common are “body” and “family/household.” These words provide unique insight that highlights the importance of the local church in the life of a believer. Some of us grew up attending church because it was something we were supposed to do. We watched the choir perform and listened to the pastor teach. It was something we observed from the pew.
Regular church attendance is essential, but we are not called to be mere observers of church activities any more than we are called to be casual observers of our family activities. We don’t just attend a church; we belong to a church. We are invited to be active participants in the life of our church. A church is not a place where we watch a service and then leave. It’s meant to be a place where we participate, worship, serve, use our gifts, and cultivate friendships. In Galatians 6, Paul writes, “So then, as we have the opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:10). As Christ-followers, we are called to do good to all people. And there is an extra admonishment to do good in the family of believers.
A healthy family is a place where we love and are loved. It’s where we carry our weight and bear one another’s burdens. It is where we invest in relationships that help us grow and look for ways to encourage those younger than us. It can be helpful to think in familial terms. Crazy aunts, endearing grandparents, awkward uncles, and irritating siblings can sometimes be helpful metaphors for our relationships within the church family. To be a part of a family is to be a part of something greater than ourselves. We may not choose who is in our family, but we’re committed to everyone’s good. We are all part of the same family, and our dad is good!
On the one hand, the invitation to be a part of the family of God is lovely. We are social creatures made for relationships and are given ample opportunities to belong and develop friendships in the church. On the other hand, being a part of a church (or any organization, for that matter) challenges our sense of individualism and opens us up to pain and possible rejection.
As church members, we commit to serving one another, praying for one another, and considering the needs of others before our own. In doing this, we will inevitably face situations where we must set aside our individual preferences for the good of the body. In short, we must adopt a “we before me” posture. Those are all good and correct things, but they require some sacrifice. There is arguably no passage in the New Testament that articulates what it looks like to belong to a local church better than Romans 12.
“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. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.” (Romans 12:9-16)
That is what it looks like to belong to a church. It means we love genuinely. It is a mutual commitment to a group of people, not a place or even a specific pastor. It means we hold fast to what is good. It means we show affection and honor. The watching world notices when people within the church treat others like that. As Christ’s followers, we belong to Christ and one another.
From that foundation of commitment to one another, we can begin the practical work of building friendships. In Find Your People, author Jennie Allen outlines five practices we can employ to help build strong friendship networks. We’ve summarized them here.
Proximity: Proximity is a starting point for intimacy because you are more likely to see one another. While you may have excellent chemistry with a college roommate who lives four hours away or that woman from your Bible study from another town, getting enough time logged to know each other will be hard. There is no substitute for time when building deep friendships. We all need a network of people who are regularly present in our lives. We need them to be close enough to run into them at Target or drop off a casserole for them when they are sick.
Shared Purpose: Living in proximity and working together creates bonds. Who is around you that might get excited about the things you care about? If you’re a mom and serve at your kids’ school, who also regularly loves on those kids? Offer to work together or gather a team and build friendships from that. Do you enjoy fixing cars? Instead of working alone on a project, find another car aficionado and work together. Bonus points if you can find a single mom or widow and change her oil or balance her tires together!
Consistency: It takes a lot of time to build friendships and connections. It takes availability and reciprocity. Sometimes we have to clock hours together over years with someone before we feel like friends. Consider who you already know whom you could seek to see more frequently or invite to join you in something you’re already doing. Do you need to exercise? Find a walking buddy. Do you spend endless hours in the car? Substitute a standing phone date for your podcast listening. Are you considering taking a class or attending an event at church? Invite someone you’ve wanted to get to know better to join you.
Transparency: We must cautiously begin to share with safe, vetted people honestly about what’s really going on in our lives. We let people into the process and not just the result. We use feeling language with these people and don’t let wounds fester. These are the friends who won’t judge you for a dirty house and won’t tell others things you’ve shared in secret. You give and receive and borrow things from one another without keeping score.
Accountability: Truth-telling is at the heart of all meaningful relationships. As broken, individualistic, stubborn people, we need friends who will tell it like it is so we can change. We need them to live close by and see us in different environments so they can tell when we’re exaggerating or making things out to be better than they are. This is built over time with a few selected people who have earned the right to be that voice in our lives and receive our voice in theirs. This often starts with the vulnerability of sharing a problem you’re having and humbly asking for advice or learning something new together.
When we practice these things, we set ourselves up for healthy community. When we practice these things in the local church, we set ourselves up to thrive relationally and spiritually.
- How would you define church for someone who’s never attended one?
- How does it change your perspective to think of the church as people, not a place or pastor?
- What is the difference between a church attender and someone who belongs to a church?
- Which of the five practices for building relationships is currently lacking in your life? Which are you already good at?
Church with a capital “C” refers to the whole body of Christ, whereas church was a lowercase “c” refers to a specific congregation.
For a deeper dive into these concepts, consider reading Find Your People with a few friends!