I used to eat breakfast in my kids’ public school cafeteria and had at least twenty minutes each morning to connect with my youngest daughter, her friends, and their parents. Now, because of COVID-19, we line up in cars and drop our kids off one at a time. A profound sadness washed over me this week as I remembered the connections I made two years ago over cafeteria breakfasts, connections that now struggle to stay alive.
This Christmas, I have had moments of reckoning as I realize that we are rounding out a second year in which our rhythms and relational habits have not been what they once were. The last two years have created distance between people and groups. We have interacted with each other less, either because of circumstances outside our control or because the divisions happening culturally have made it easier to be suspicious, apathetic, or cautious around people different from us.
Regardless of the reason, one of the problems with distance is that it can distort our vision of one another. It makes it easier for us to judge, nurse wounds, be self-righteous, and forget what we enjoy about the other.
Jesus draws us near
Perhaps this is why Jesus was always bringing people from different socio-statuses together: wealthy and poor, Samaritan and Jew, clean and unclean, male and female. He removed their distance. If they were going to discover Christ and follow him, they would also discover each other in the process.
Jesus removes the distance between himself and humanity. Distance amplifies the shadows we see in each other, but Christ calls us near to see his light in the other. God’s presence enables us to relate differently to one another. Because of Christ, we can:
- believe the best
- carry each other’s burdens
- rejoice in each other’s joys
- resolve conflict
God’s nearness allows us to draw near to one another. It is actually part of God’s design for how he intends to advance his mission on this earth. In reconciling us to himself, he reconciles us to each other. This reality must shape our actions and attitudes toward all people.
The relief of choosing distance
But drawing near to one another is not where we are at, is it? We are almost two years into a global pandemic, and our world has been turned upside down. After not meeting in person for in-person worship gatherings, we returned to a church divided by:
- masks vs. no masks
- vaccines vs. anti-vax
- red vs. blue
- deepened political and racial divides
But even before we returned, something was off in our bodies and our souls. Some of us felt anxious, spiritually anemic, numb, tired, depressed, alone, angry, cynical, judgmental, over it. While the world came unglued, we had an opportunity to step outside of our day-to-day lives and evaluate why we do the things we do. Many concluded that drawing near to each other is not the thing to do. While the world came unglued, we had an opportunity to step outside of our day-to-day lives and evaluate why we do the things we do. Many concluded that drawing near to each other is not the thing to do. Click To Tweet
Since coming through the hardest parts of 2020, there has been a significant shuffle of people moving to new churches or leaving churches altogether.
Yes, there are many people leaving because of the failures and abuses of their church leadership. Perhaps this is a needed moment of reckoning as we do some deep soul searching on our collective failures.
But there are also many Jesus-loving churches with kind and humble pastors experiencing a shuffle in their church membership. There are countless Christians who don’t fit into the category of wounded or deconstructing who are not currently in regular Christian community. Why?
Are we searching for the perfect fit? The right place that may revive our tired and weary souls, our frustrated marriages, our exhausted parenting? Are things bad, or complacent, and we just need something new to refresh and restart us? Or maybe we aren’t looking for a new place. Instead, we are enjoying a solo life and not missing much by opting out of regular community.
Regardless of our reasons, the last two years have exposed a lot about our relationship to each other and our understanding of what it means to be in committed relationships with Christians that are broader than our nuclear family.
Cultivate community building
Whether we recommit to the places we have been or take this season to start new, it’s important that we understand the need to draw near to one another and be cultivators of community. We can’t wait for it to be created for us, we can’t sit back and look for the best package that offers it to us, but rather we need to be full participants in drawing near to one another.
Pastors, you have now gone through a year of losses as you watch people move on because they wanted different music or sermons or a young moms’ group or a better youth group or shared political views—it’s been a hard season. It can be easy to read this and feel validated in our losses, hurts, and disappointments.
But the truth is we haven’t always equipped people to be initiators and cultivators of community. Through programs and leadership strategies we have tried to give our church members something that they instead need to learn to initiate and cultivate. Our sermons, Bible studies, and podcasts aren’t exactly equipping people to take initiative to build community. We teach the Bible, we talk about sin and repentance, and we offer applications of Scripture that impact us on an individual level—sometimes a systemic level—but rarely at a communal level. We haven’t always equipped people to be initiators and cultivators of community. Through programs and leadership strategies we have tried to give our church members something that they instead need to learn to initiate and cultivate. Click To Tweet
So for those in church leadership, we must ask the hard questions:
- What does it look like to follow Jesus, together, as a community?
- And how are all God’s people (not just clergy) empowered and equipped to cultivate this kind of community?
- What kind of resiliencies, conflict resolution strategies, and relational rhythms do we need to inhabit a thriving communal experience?
These are questions we together must discover the answers to, so that we can learn to draw near to one another as we allow repentance, reconciliation, and unity to become our living testament to our neighbors and the world around us.