Grieving the Church
You know that verse that tells us not to grieve the Holy Spirit? Sometimes, I think we need to be be reminded not to grieve Christian community.
The notion of “community” is something most Christians are familiar with. Maybe too familiar with. The idea has become so mundane and unexciting that it’s taken for granted. We often ignore the gift of Christian fellowship. And when we do talk about community in the Church, we often talk about how to love people when things are bad. We focus on accountability, vulnerability, and the confession of sins to one another.
All of these things are good and I know Jesus desires them of us. Of course the Lord wants us to be open to our brothers and sisters in Christ about what’s hard, how we’re hurting, how we’re failing. But I know for myself, I often focus so much on these things—how to love one another in the midst of pain and sin and suffering—that I forget to celebrate community when things are joyful and wonderful and fun. I forget that friendship is a treat that the Lord has given us, a glimpse of what heaven will be like.
Community in Sickness and in Health
At the beginning of every summer during staff training, the returning staffers are interviewed (as a way of giving advice to newcomers) and one of the questions always asked is “What is your favorite thing about New Life Ranch?” The answer inevitably returns, with a self-conscious chuckle every time, “Community.”
The idea of community has becoming something trite and cliche, a thing we’re embarrassed by and reluctant to admit that we desperately need. It’s become a given in our Christian walk, something obvious and taken for granted. But in making community obvious and trite, we forget how special it really is. Why have we become embarrassed by our need for community? And when we aren’t embarrassed by community, why do we only sing its praises when things are hard and we need someone to pray for us?
Last Spring was one of the hardest semesters of my college experience so far. I was serving in a leadership position in my campus ministry and I was burnt out. I was tired of serving others and so rarely seeing the fruits of my labor. I was tired of feeling lonely and unsupported. More than anything, I was tired of seeing the imperfections of the Christian Church.
In my leadership position, I saw when followers of Christ were hurt or overlooked by other believers. I saw when Christians were out right mean to one another. Towards the middle of the semester, I reached my breaking point. I cried to my roommates about how drained and alone and discouraged I felt.
Learning to Celebrate Again
I needed healing. I needed freedom from the bitterness that was building up in my heart. I needed to remember why Jesus gave us community in the first place. In an attempt to seek the Lord for restoration, I attended a healing ministry that one of my friends was involved with. I entered the healing room tentatively, not knowing what to expect. That night, three women prayed over me. One told me that while she was praying for me, the Lord gave her a vision of a giant field. She asked if there was a field that was important to me.
I nodded, thinking of the picturesque “West 40” field at New Life Ranch where I’d held many important conversations with counselors growing up, and then, when I was a counselor myself, with my campers or my friends. I thought about all the fun, adventures, and gladness I’d experienced in that field. She told me that the field was a sanctuary for me, a place that God had given me as a reminder of His faithfulness. She said that when I feel lonely or discouraged or beaten down, I need to think back to the faithfulness that He’s shown me in that sanctuary and trust that He will continue to show me this faithfulness elsewhere.
That place of Christian fellowship, wherever we experience it in our own unique pocket of the world, is a gift from Jesus to us. Community is not a thing to only engage in when we need someone to hold us accountable to a sin we’ve been struggling with. Community is not a given, something obvious that we should take for granted. Friendship is a gift that we should celebrate. Friendship is a constant reminder of God’s faithfulness to us and how He loves us.
The Church is a reminder to us in the minutia of our daily lives, that we aren’t alone, that Jesus is thinking about us and caring for us. We should rejoice daily that the Lord gives us friends to walk through live with, to pray with, to be silly with, to share our joy and our sorrow with. Community is something to be celebrated.