I’ve invited several people to write “guest blog posts” for this blog. There are several reasons for this: 1) To offer different perspectives. 2) To generate even more discussion and conversation between blogs. 3) To introduce other bloggers to my readers.
(If you are interested in writing a guest blog post, please contact me at aknox[at]sebts[dot]com.)
So Alan asked me to write a guest post for his blog. I asked him what he wanted me to write about and after saying “the church” which didn’t really narrow things down too much, he asked me, “What is the one thing you would want to say to my readers?”
“You are not alone.” That is the thing that I want to say to you. You are not alone, even when it feels like it. Many readers on this blog see the value of community and meaningful relationships among the Body of Christ. Many readers on this blog have faced resistance when trying to implement those things into their lives and into the group of believers they are part of. That can be very discouraging and often very lonesome. I know. I’m there.
Some of you may have gone to seminary with Alan, and may have had the opportunity to be part of the great community of believers that he is part of in that area. You may have left school thinking that you would find something or be part of something similar when you arrived wherever you were going. If you are like me, you quickly found out that it wasn’t going to be that easy. Strong, community-minded bodies of believers are not found around every corner, and very often they are not as equipped to integrate new people as the one in this community.
Others of you may read about all this stuff and think, “I would move anywhere for this,” or, “This is all wonderful, but completely utopian and unrealistic.” You have never been part of any kind of real community of believers. You have never seen pastors who step aside (or more like “step in”) and let the congregation minister to each other. You find all the talk of these wonderful things to be so far from your experience that you never expect to see it in real life.
One thing is certain, for both of these groups of people, it can be extremely discouraging to read of (or remember) the wonderful blessing of being part of a community of believers who encourage each other to grow in Christ – who laugh together, cry together, and live together – and then look around yourself and see nothing like that.
I had the opportunity to observe this kind of community when I was at seminary with Alan. I never really put the effort into being part of that group. But I saw how they treated each other, and it was really quite wonderful. I saw how people were growing together and helping each other along, and it seemed like such a great expression of the love of Christ among his body.
Then I moved back to Maine. I had stuff going on in my life at the time, and I wasn’t interested in people being close to me. It was a couple of years before all that stuff settled down and I started to really desire to be part of a community of believers, for me, for my wife, and for our kids. That was over a year ago now. We have spent time with many nice people, we have even visited a couple of “house” churches. The people either lived too far away, or the “house” church was just like everything else we had already seen from the institutional church: we all met on a certain day, sang some songs, talked about the Bible, ate some food (this was a nice addition to the traditional service!), and went our separate ways until next weekend. Obviously not the community or “shared life” we were thinking of.
The struggle is that being part of a close community of believers is hard work. You can’t just go to a once-a-week service. You have to take time to spend with those people, care about those people, and make an effort to share your life with them. This is hard and something I am not very good at. It is even harder when there aren’t a group of people already doing that, a group that you can integrate yourself into.
There are lots of other reasons that this is so difficult, but suffice it to say that it’s hard. I think that there may be quite a few people that read this blog, and think that they are the only ones who can’t make this happen, who can’t find and be part of this kind of community, who want to be the church as Christ called us to be but just don’t know how. You are not the only one. It is hard for many of us, and many of us, myself included, are nowhere near anything like that. We are no longer content with traditional church structures and “Good morning brother, how are you?” type relationships. But we can’t seem to find the deeper relationships, the more meaningful fellowship, and mutual edification. So, ironically, in our pursuit of more honest and meaningful relationships with our brothers and sisters, we end up alone and alienated.
I could give you “the answer,” but I don’t have it. We have Christ. We are never alone, but sometimes it sure can feel that way. So when you are feeling discouraged and disappointed about where you are, just know that you are not alone in feeling alone.
Am I the only one who struggles with this? Why do you think it’s so hard? Are you part of a community of believers and still feel this way sometimes?