What is it? What do you think it is? What community do you most feel connected with? What community do you wish you were connected to that you are distant from right now? “The married one!” comes to mind for many Christian singles.
No one lives in a complete vacuum. You may have heard many times that we were not designed to live life alone, even if one is not an extrovert. Even in today’s technological era, each person is part of a larger community besides just being part of the human race. A community—a group of people or small groups (like families, neighborhoods, and institutions)—are like extensions of ourselves. Communities provide a sense of identity, belonging, strength, purpose, camaraderie, reminder, and history. Communities are the tie, the bridge, between who we were born and who we could be. It’s important to maintain those ties to help us be the best person God created us to be.
Due to my family, my friends, my leisure activities, my profession, my work, my church, my living situation, my financial status, my marital status, my neighborhood, and several other roles which I take on, I, like you, are a member of many different communities.
Each community has its pros and cons, ups and downs. Whenever there is any change in your life or status, there is usually some new corresponding change in your identity with and level of participation in one of your community affiliations.
For instance, some roles, you are born into and get to choose later in life whether to retain those roles. You may have been an older sister or brother as a child, but later in life you might be estranged from your younger sibling(s). Such estrangement may result in tension, arguments and further hurt feelings in the family when someone isn’t invited to a holiday gathering or an important family event.
Some roles you acquire may get taken from you. Perhaps you were once married, but you are single due to your former spouse’s adulterous alliances and now you are divorced. Or s/he went to prison over a heinous crime or substance abuse-related problem and you chose to leave them. Or your spouse died, and you miss him or her very, very much. No matter how it happens, it is very painful to go from being married and in the married community to being single and in a single, divorced, or widowed community.
Some roles get placed on you, very much without your express consent, and you have to figure out what to do next. Have you ever had a personal crime, like a rape, armed robbery, or identity theft, committed against you? You’re part of the crime victim community. Have you ever been laid off or fired from a job? You’ve joined the ranks of the unemployed. Did you ever have a miscarriage or a pressured abortion? You were inducted into the community of a parent grieving over a lost baby or possibly those hiding personal guilt, shame, or failure. No one wants the events that created these new roles, but they happen to people every day.
Perhaps there was a role you never really got used to or it took you a long time, but somehow it was expected of you like, yesterday. Any of you remember the first time you held your firstborn baby? How inadequate, how vulnerable, you felt? How scared you were to hold your precious new baby for fear of dropping him/her? Do you recall everything you tried to stop your baby from crying that very first time? (“Nnoooo…. Why is he crying? It’s okay, baby, I’m right here… Let’s see, let’s see, uh, check the diaper…Nothing… uh, is he hungry? Here. No. He’s still crying. Do I need to burp him? How do I do that again, oh man… It’s okay, baby, I’m right here…”) The role of new father/mother of a baby newborn is a scary role to be in at first! Being in a community of new moms and dads, along with several experienced moms and dads, seems to relieve the anxiety of the newer ones better.
Each role, identity, and addition or change in status creates changes in our standing in the corresponding community. We can often embrace and find useful and encouraging our communities during times of change.
Sometimes, it is not the individual who changes as much as the community. We see it in the news every day.
A community rejoices when a new water project is finally completed and the entire town can now access fresh, clean, flowing water. Death and disease are halted; livestock and agriculture flourish.
A community mourns when disaster and death destroy it, as cities in Texas and Kansas have experienced this weekend during terrible flooding. They will rise up, still crying, to rebuild, and those of us outside their communities will come alongside and help them rebuild.
There is one community which was designed to be useful and encouraging, but when it is mentioned, people’s emotions often get worked up. Then they get angry or despairing and, more often than not, are ready to tell you all about why they used to be part of this community but are no longer. Or why they never really felt the need to be a part of this community in the first place.
See what I mean?
For some, it’s no big deal. They know the Bible teaches that the body of Christ creates a living, fluid place for ministry, healing, and serving. They understand that the church is not perfect, but they are willing to continue their affiliation with an imperfect community because they are inextricably connected with a perfect God. They know that He makes up the difference between all our inadequacies as we love one another, follow the Spirit’s leading, and obey the Word of God.
For others, it is a big deal. They were hurt by someone in church, whether a leader or a “regular” member. Or they were disappointed or outraged by some popular and highly visible leader’s public failure. Sometimes beliefs learned as children no longer resonate in one’s soul; they disagree with formerly cherished doctrines and stay away in silent protest. Or they never had positive church involvement modeled before them and they never got used to going to church; it feels funny every time they go. Or they see the infamous drama and mess the church is and they figure, who needs this mess? They’re no better than me.
Here’s a big one: many churches, even large ones, don’t have a singles ministry. Sometimes singles feel out of place in a religious community that venerates and is ruled by couples. They opt out of weekly reminders highlighting their aloneness.
If you’re not going to church these days—whatever your reason for not going to church—you’re not alone. Several recent research surveys have revealed increasing numbers of Americans who no longer go to church regularly. They feel affiliated with a body of believers somewhere, but do not feel necessary to be a part of a local one physically. However, their distance keeps them from fully reaching their potential and maturity as believers. These absentee believers are not reaping the full benefits of their spiritual ties, and we all suffer for their lack of presence.
For all the reasons that I have already mentioned about community in this article, I encourage you to consider and pray about rejoining your faith community. You don’t have to return to the last church you participated in, or that you went to as a child, you know. Go to church this weekend or next, as we begin summer. You know, start—or restart—a new habit.
Now, what were the reasons for physically being present in your faith community—church—have I been talking about today?
Remember my saying that community, in this case spiritual community, provides a sense of identity, belonging, strength, purpose, camaraderie, reminder, and history? Its being the bridge between who we were born (again) into and who we were meant to be in Christ? That entering into the visible faith community allows you to participate in a living, fluid place for ministry, healing, and serving?
Please do not stay away because of your or others’ shame, guilt, hatred, pain, disappointment, failure, sin, busyness over misplaced priorities, laziness, or other negative barriers that either you or others have erected and that have blocked your view of the cross. The body of Christ is supposed to be ministering to its own, not shooting its own wounded. We have become a city twisted amongst itself. When you stay away, however, you’re not just hurting yourself; the body of Christ does, too. It does not know exactly why it hurts, it just knows it does. 1 Corinthians 12:20-27 now comes to mind.
I, too, have been very disappointed by the failures of churches and its leaders, but then I remember: I, too, am a mere human indwelt by the Holy Spirit. I have disappointed others.
I hate being hurt by church folk, but then I remember: I have hurt others, too. I have to be willing to extend the same grace to and prayer for others that I want for myself.
We miss you when you are not with us. Blood—the blood of Christ—is thicker than water. Please, come home to your faith community and let’s all start over. Let’s regroup and let the Holy Spirit work in all our hearts together and restart our journey toward eternity. Because that’s where we’re going to all end up. See you next weekend.
Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. Robert Frost
6 bad reasons to go to church. David Fitch for ChurchLeaders website.
7 startling facts: an up close look at church attendance in America. Kelly Shattuck for ChurchLeaders website
What surveys say about worship attendance—and why some stay home. Michael Lipka for FactTank website 9/13/13