This is part 5 in the series, “Rethinking The Way We Reach Gays.” If you want to read the previous installments, here they are: Part 1:Climbing Down From The Self Righteous Pedestal, Part 2:Let’s Stop Promising Them God Will Make Them Straight, Part 3:A Renewed Commitment To Holiness, Part 4: “Because The Bible Says So” Isn’t Going To Satisfy Skeptics
Before I put in my two cents concerning the rich blessing God has given us in Christian community, I want to share a couple of thoughts from two of the greatest minds to have blessed the Church in the last century.
“Loyal fellowship of believers is not an ‘add on’ to good doctrine. Fellowship of believers is often the vein through which the Savior’s blood pumps us whole and well.” – Rosaria Butterfield
“Every human wish/dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.” – Deitrich Bonhoeffer
These quotes shine different, yet complimentary, light onto the idea of Christian community. In the first, my sister and friend Rosaria is calling us – a 21st century, individualistic, and program-prone bunch of folks – to retreat back from our apathy concerning Christian fellowship and to return to the corporate, familial way of life laid out in the Scriptures. In the latter, Bonhoeffer is reminding us that this corporate, familial way of life even at its best will often not live up to most of our dreams. I believe it’s healthy and necessary when thinking about and cultivating Christian community to keep both of these ideas in mind.
1) The necessity of Christian fellowship. How sadly true it is that so much of the American Body of Christ runs on a “starvation diet of community,” as Rosaria often phrases it. It’s so easy in our busy culture for us to get stuck in the ruts of our life routines and neglect to conform our life routines to the image the Bible has pictured for us. We go to church, our Sunday school class, and maybe a mid-week small group (if our church offers that), and scribble three checkmarks onto our list of Christian must-do’s for the week. This is how many of us have grown to view and practice community – oh but what a far cry it is from what God commands of us and wants for us. It may be feasible, though I doubt it, for married believers with families to get by on this starvation diet. But it’s not feasible for the single people in our churches. In fact, it’s spiritually lethal.
Last week at an Ethics and Religious Liberty conference on gay marriage (Equip Austin), Mike Goeke shared that in his decades of experience in sexual identity ministry, he’s found that the majority of same sex attracted people who fall back into their former way of life are propelled in that direction by loneliness—not just mere romantic loneliness, but deep, comprehensive loneliness. In my short five years of engaging in this area of ministry, the most common despair I’ve seen shared among the same sex attracted people trying to live for Christ is the lack of friendship that they find in the church. When they pledged allegiance to Jesus, they knew full well there would be a void (at least temporarily, maybe permanently) in the romantic aspect of their life. That cross in itself can be nearly crushing, depending on the person’s personality. Some are just wired to be able to bear singleness better than others. But they counted the cost and considered Jesus worthy of that sacrifice. What they didn’t realize, however, is that in coming to Christ most of their friends would drop like flies . . . and that they would find it a daunting task to refill those empty slots in the church. I personally know single men and women who have been believers for 10+ years and who have stayed committed to a local body of believers (they don’t church hop), yet they barely get a phone call or a text, much less an invite to dinner, from anyone in their church. Even after they express their struggle with loneliness— nothing! Their Christian community is limited to scheduled worship services and community groups.
Body of Christ, the single people in our midst – of whom I am one – need more than a friendly hello or small chat within the four walls of a church once or twice a week. We need real friends. We need brothers and sisters who are invested into our lives and we into theirs. We know you guys have spouses, families, and other responsibilities and we aren’t asking you to take time away from those things to coddle us. We’re just simply asking for you to invite us into some of those spaces. Can we have dinner with you and your wife sometime? Could we join in on family game night, just once a month, maybe? Can we join your Thanksgiving dinner or Easter brunch? Could you shoot a text message and see how we’re doing, even just once a week, so we don’t feel so utterly alone in this life? I know this may sound needy and as if I’m asking the Church to coddle singles. That’s not what I’m doing. I’m just asking the church to be the church. I’m asking the Church to love their neighbor in action and deed, not just in word or creed.
2) The reality of Christian fellowship. My fellow single believers, it’s true that Christian community is an absolute necessity in our lives, and we should voice our need for it when it’s lacking. But we’d do ourselves a good favor not to have unrealistic expectations for what it’s going to look like. However sincere and passionate our covenant brothers and sisters may be in their desire be inclusive of us, there are going to be weeks when we don’t get an invitation to dinner. There are going to be weeks when they don’t carve out thirty minutes to have a conversation over text with us. There are going to be weeks that we spend mostly alone. We’ve got to expect this and not wallow in self-pity when it happens. In an ideal world, we would never have a lonely day, but this is not an ideal world – even for redeemed people living in redeemed community. Our married brothers and sisters get busy. Things come up. Kids get sick. Kids get crazy. Life just gets overwhelming, and sometimes, we’re going to slip their minds. When we do, it’s not because they’re intentionally being neglectful or insensitive to our needs. They’re limited human beings, and just like us, they’re doing the best they can just to get through each week. There’s a huge difference between a church that isn’t lifting a hospitable finger and a church that’s really trying to practice community yet accomplishing it imperfectly. If your church is the latter, give them a little grace. Give them a lot of grace.
We also need to remember we are responsible for seeking to cultivate community, as well. We’re often far less busy or distracted than the mom with three kids under 9 years old. So sometimes we need to take the initiative. We need to send the texts. We need to propose the possibility for dinner next week. We need to offer to serve them in whatever way they may need. Christian fellowship is a two way street, and we must seek to be cultivators, not just beneficiaries.
This may sound down-in-the-dumps-ish, but I want to conclude this post by reminding us that we’re all going to have unmet relational needs in this life (married people included). As we strive to walk with one another in authentic, loving community, we must remember that our fellowship, even in its best seasons, won’t be what it should be until Glory. The fallenness of this world has stolen away complete relational fulfillment from the human experience. Every relationship is not what it could and should be because of our sin (again, married people included). Our fellow believers will offend us, and we will offend them. Our fellow believers will neglect us, and we will neglect them. This is when we must let grace abound.Grace must be the bread and butter of our Christian communities if we want them to thrive.
For some additional and valuable thoughts on Christian community, check out this short 2 minute video with Sam Alberry.