This article was written by Darby Strickland and published by CCEF
When it comes to community in the church, many people feel like onlookers. For many, deep fellowship seems far off. Some feel excluded because they “do not fit in,” and others are unsure how to engage.
In the church of Jesus, this should not be. All believers should feel welcome and invited to be an active part of its fellowship. But in truth, we tend to herd together in groups based on similarities like being married or single, our children’s ages, our life stages, political preferences, or professional positions. We feel more comfortable around people like us. (What does your small group look like?)
God wants us to fight against this tendency and build a community that embraces people who are different from us, including people on the margins. The apostle Peter tells us:
As you come to him [Christ], a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4–5).
Believers are like living stones, and God is shaping and fitting us together into a place where he dwells. But forming this type of community does not come naturally to us. It is a blessing, then, that God is shaping each one of us so that we are more like Christ, the living stone. He molds and forms us so that we fit together. I need to be willing to be reshaped so that someone quite different from me might find a place of belonging next to me. God wants us to look more like who he created us to be for the benefit of one another.
I might have to grow in patience as I listen to others who take longer to formulate their thoughts. At the same time, others will have to grow in gentleness in how they respond. God does not want my rough edges rubbing against you, though they will, and will continue to do so until glory. But my rough edges will make you smoother, and your edges will help shape me. When I embrace people who are different from me, it stands to reason that my heart will need to be reshaped so we can fit together. This is not always a pleasant prospect, but it is a beautiful one.
Let me tell you one way my family has been blessed by people who have embraced this. We have recently started attending a new church, where only a few teenagers attend. I have noticed three couples that seek to connect with my children. Each Sunday, they spend 20 minutes drawing out my kids’ interests and enjoyments, making my children feel valued. I would imagine they would prefer having adult conversations; however, they have chosen to plant their feet in front of my children, whose concerns are quite different than theirs. Consequently, my children have felt loved and feel a sense of belonging to this new church family.
When I have sought to lean in and love people who are not like me, it helps me to remember that my relationship with Christ is powerful and can reshape everything about me. Consequently, I can trust that he is at work, shaping everything about you, too. I need this truth in front of me when God is not prioritizing the things I would like him to address with you first. And you need this truth when I am difficult for you to love. We have so much to celebrate and encourage one another in what Christ is doing as he shapes and builds us together. We are all heading in the same direction and will all arrive at the same place. There is much to celebrate as we watch one another become more like Christ, even when it is at a snail’s pace.
Yes, community is messy and complicated. Sometimes it seems hopeless, especially for those on the margins. Christ was one of those on the margin, knowing rejection. We see him ministering to the uninvited throughout the Gospels, so we know they are on his heart. We may struggle with wanting to be reshaped since it is easier to just stick to the relationships that come naturally to us. But if people on the fringes are on the Lord’s heart, they need to be on ours. We are meant to be built together into a spiritual house for the benefit of one another and for the glory of the Lord. Ask yourself: Are you willing to be shaped for someone else’s good and God’s glory? If the answer is yes, delight in watching God build his house.