I grew up in church. I’ve always said I was born on a Friday and in church that Sunday. I love the church. Really, I do. I see the full potential that God dreamed up in gathering people to be family. And really, that’s the point isn’t it? The Kingdom of God is all about family.
In saying that let me also state that I have been a church hopper for the last decade or so. The last time was really involved in a church was in 2001-2004. The main attraction was community. There were mothers and fathers in the faith that were pouring into us young ones. But then that season ended and I returned to Texas. I lost my sense of community and family.
Nevertheless, God has started to call me back to the place of family. It’s time to shake off the robe of independence and take a seat at the family table. Here are some of the lessons I am learning in the process:
There is a new paraphrase version of scripture that I’ve found called The Mirror Bible. In Hebrews 10:25 it says, “In light of our free access to the Father, let us extend that embrace to one another. Our gatherings are no longer a repetition of tradition but an essential fellowship where we remind one another of our true identity. Let us do so with greater urgency (now that the day has dawned in our understanding).”
I love this paraphrase, because I think it exemplifies what church is really about. It is a place where we remind one another of our true identity. Church is about us understanding our place in the family of God as sons and daughters, who grow up and become mothers and fathers who raise sons and daughters. Without knowing what it means to be a child, we will fail at parenting. Then we will end up with children who don’t have spiritual parents (new converts who are not discipled).
In many ways the church has become a spiritual orphanage. Ben Pasley, lead singer of Enter the Worship Circle, wrote a book called “Orphan, Slave, Son” in which he describes the failure of the church to operate under the spirit of adoption, by creating spiritual families who adopt and raise spiritual children and instead work out a system that creates order without identity. We must be rooted and grounded in our identity as sons and daughters so that we can raise sons and daughters in the Kingdom.
In Proverbs 27, we find two (of many) amazing pieces of advice when it comes to relationships. Quoting from The Passion Translation, another paraphrase version, we read in verses 5-6, “It’s better to be corrected openly, if it stems from hidden love. You can trust a friend who wounds you with his honesty, but your enemy’s pretended flattery comes from insincerity.” Then in verse 17 we read, “It takes a grinding wheel to sharpen a blade, and so a friendly argument can sharpen a man.”
Relationships are difficult. I don’t know about you but I often find myself avoiding people who cause such intense friction in my life. I don’t enjoy the process of being refined. I want the easy button in the middle of my relationships. Unfortunately, for discipleship and community to be of any value in your life, it needs to come with a measure of friction. As with anything, you don’t want to allow your pendulum to swing to either side. If the tension is too much or non-existent, they are both counter-productive. However, the middle ground, the place of tension, is the best place for us to be, though it is often the most difficult.
I am taking a class in Exegesis from ENMU. This semester we all have to write an exegesis paper on Philippians 2:12-13 (NASB) (which is what started this whole internal dialogue). This verse says, “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”
Most commentators believe that when Paul writes “work out your salvation” that he was writing about the salvation of the corporate church in Philippi. While there is obviously a very personal level of salvation, I think that our salvation/sanctification comes through the process of being in community.
In some mysterious way, God chooses to limit Himself by being used through the body of Christ (or people in general) to bring us personally and corporately to a place of total sanctification. Our salvation is intrinsically tied to how connected we are to the people who are on the journey with us.
While you may not struggle with being a part of the church, you may find it difficult to be in small groups or other expressions of community. I want to encourage you to dig in deep and allow God to use the community to both remind you of your identity, to help shape your character and to continue the sanctification process in your life. You need it more than you know and we need you more than we know.
Jill Hurley is the Executive Director of Tech 24-7, a campus ministry at Texas Tech University which invites students from all denominations and backgrounds to join together in prayer initiatives such as Campus House of Prayer (CHOP) and the Collegiate Day of Prayer (CDOP). She is also the Interim Campus Director for Chi Alpha Campus Ministries at Texas Tech. She is currently pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Religion and Anthropology, and hopes to graduate in the next two years.