Church friendships can, unfortunately, become as segregated as high school clicks. If we are not extremely careful to emphasize community, spiritual gifts, and the truth that we are a very real family, we can miss the beautiful dimensions of Christ’s church.
And the dimensions are staggeringly beautiful. I am a thirty-something that attends a 170-year-old church. We are a church full of Millenials, baby-boomers, intellectuals and free spirits. We have men and women that still love the feel of a hymnal in their hands, while others would rather reach their palms to the sky and sway to modern music. We have an organ and a drum. We are the most unlikely group of individuals to be friends – real friends – and yet, it is what we are called to strive for.
The ideal church is one where real friends sacrifice, serve, sharpen, and encourage one another. This in of itself is challenging, but add to it that most churches are composed of very different individuals who are full of different loves, and this can seem like moving mountains.
Good thing God is in the business of impossible acts.
Scott Sauls, author of Jesus Outside the Lines, explains why the hard work of developing real friendships is important, even if seemingly impossible.
“The hard and necessary work of reconciliation, peace-making, relational perseverance and loving the unlovely is not something we generally gravitate on our own … we need the inconvenient and costly demands of congregational living to shape that kind of love.”
So, Christian, how do we cultivate these kinds of relationships?
The best part of life in a post-modern Christian culture (and there are positive parts) is that Christians need each other more than before. If we are to live as “strangers and aliens” in America while still being “of this world” we are going to need to depend on coming back to the well of Christ together.
This can be fleshed out in what we see in the heaven. Gather around a table, break bread and pray daily. But this idea needn’t be romanticized.
Many of us have developed the idea that this pursuit will keep us afloat above struggles and hard conversations. But the opposite is true. In fact, struggles may even increase as churches become more diverse and emphasize loving those not like us.
Emphasize community anyway, because as the church becomes more diverse, it better reflects Christ.
Pair Ears with Noses, Hands with Feet
If we’ve been in the church we’ve heard it preached, “the body does not consist of one member but of many.” (1 Corinthians 12:14)
If asked in a conversation what part of “the body” we are, a seasoned Christian would more than likely be able to respond with “an arm, ear, nose, or backbone.” Many of us have been taught that we are something and we should use that gift, but we often stop there (to our own demise).
A pastor should pair noses with hands and feet with backbones. Even if it means engineers talk to creatives and teachers work with retired army generals. We need each other’s gifts to fulfill our mission excellently. We see this in our own relationships and personal lives.
My husband is one person and he brings out unique parts of me. He makes me laugh and enjoy life more fully. He gives me eyes to slow down and enjoy my kids in a whole new light. My dad keeps me dreaming and ignites the joy of work inside of me. My mom stirs my creativity. Without each of these people to sharpen my gifts, I wouldn’t be the woman I currently am.
The same goes for the church. We each echo God’s glory differently for the sake of the Kingdom.
We are an Actual Family
Jesus said He would divide blood families while He emphasized the unity of God’s family. As a Millennial, it used to rub me the wrong way when people would call my pastor-husband, “Brother Michael.” I felt like I had found my way into some country bumpkin church.
But as my love for the family of Christ has grown, I have felt the bonds of the church become like blood inside my own veins. I may not refer to my pastor or fellow member as “brother or sister” simply because of personal preference, but I will love them as my real family – in a sacrificial, forgiving, peace-making, together-forever kind of way.
And I will appreciate those that do refer to one another as “brother and sister” because now I see beauty in the language of family surrounding the church.
The church can and should be the anecdote to a world void of deep relationships. Let us pursue one another in genuine love and strive for real friendships despite our diversity. Our diversity is only a more pure reflection of Christ Himself.