Build a sense of community in church
At its best, a church can provide a community of support as a congregation bears one another’s burdens and shares one another’s joys. There should be no one better able to lift you up in prayer like your fellow church goers when times get tough and so no one who can better share the joy when things go well.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Church is not always that supportive loving community which we desire. The main cause for this is that we simply do not know the people sitting next to us in the pews on Sunday.
No matter how much I may want to join with you in prayer for your sister going through chemotherapy, I will not be able to do so unless I know of the need. You have to risk sharing your burdens, before anyone can begin to help you shoulder them.
Sure you could just call the church office with a prayer need and someone, or maybe a number of persons would pray for that need. But, the best way to begin this process of finding a community is to get involved with your church. I am not suggesting you take on some ministry within the church, just that you do something more than attend an occasional worship service. For most people in any given congregation, their only time in church is during the time of the Sunday worship service. There is nothing wrong with that in and of itself, and there may be much to be gained by worshipping with a congregation. However, taking part in worship alone will not build a sense of community.
To fully take part in the life of a church community, you will need to at least attend times of fellowship. You would also benefit greatly from a small group Bible study or other opportunities a church offers to get you connected with others in the congregation. For teens this might be a youth group, for a parent it could be a Mothers Morning Out program or a Men’s Group.
Whatever form it takes, these smaller settings offer that opportunity you need to really get to know the folks with whom you worship each week. It is primarily out of these shared experiences in smaller groups that real community is built.
No matter what church you attend, there are probably already opportunities in place for you to connect to others. If not, or if they are not the group for you, you can create one. The pastors I know would all greet warmly the idea of adding some new group within the church as long as capable leadership is available.
Another way to begin the process of bearing burdens and sharing joys is to share your prayers and praises with the church. You probably have some sort of prayer list in place within your congregation. When a need arises within your family, let your church know, then keep your church family posted on the progress. And don’t forget to celebrate the good news too.
The Bible assumes a community of support and expects Christians to work to create this environment. This is best shown in the group of scriptures known as “the one anothers.” These are the New Testament passages which tell us how we should act toward our neighbors, and particularly our church community. All 43 of them are found in full at www.kingofpeace.org/community.htm
Here are a few examples of these sayings showing how Christians should treat one another:
In John 13, Jesus told his disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Paul wrote to the church in Rome, “Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another.”
To the church in Ephesus, Paul wrote, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.”
Peter, in his first letter, wrote, “Love one another deeply from the heart.”
And the Apostle John admonished, “Love one another,” no less than six times in one short letter.
Finally, James, the leader of the early Christian Church in Jerusalem, gave some advice for Christians that would make for a healthy congregation. Among other things he said, “Do not speak evil against one another.” And he wrote, “Do not grumble against one another.” And his final “one another” words were, “pray for one another.”
Scripture leaves no doubt as to the mutual respect and love that should be reflected in every aspect of church life. A church can and should be that safe environment in which you can find the loving support to be the person God has created you to be. Yet, you will never be able to be a part of that loving community if you don’t take a risk. You need to get more involved than attending a worship service on occasion if you want a group to be able to bear your burdens with you and share your joys.
(The Rev. Frank Logue is pastor of King of Peace Episcopal Church in Kingsland.)
King of Peace Episcopal Church + P.O. Box 2526 + Kingsland, Georgia 31548-2526