I have been part of about half a dozen conversations recently about Christian community, more specifically, about the lack of meaningful, intimate relationships within the context of the visible church.
During one of these conversations, a friend asked a question that went something like this: "Why do we not pursue deeper relationships within the body of Christ?"
How would you answer that question?
I can think of a couple of answers...
I am too busy. Between work, family, kids' activities (sports, band, school, youth group), household chores, etc., I simply do not have any time left over to invest in my church family.
I am too tired. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually, I am too exhausted to make the effort to develop meaningful relationships with my sisters and brothers in Christ. See above.
I need to "get my act together" before I engage on a deeper level with others. I am a mess; everyone else I know, they're all decent people who have their lives under control. There is no way I can really be friends with someone who is so "together" until I clean up my own life.
I am afraid of rejection or of being the topic of gossip. Honestly, folks, if I decide to be transparent about my struggles, my weaknesses, and my sin with others in my church family, somebody is going to blab what I have shared in confidence - or - my brother or sister in Christ is going to walk away from me in disgust - or - worse yet, the person I endeavor to trust is going to do both.
Whatever answer you or I give to my friend's question, I think all our answers boil down to this: we do not want and we do not think we need deep, intimate, committed relationships with others within the body of Christ. We can manage this life very well on our own, thank you very much.
Think about it.
If I truly wanted a deeper level of relationship and community, I would value time with the body of Christ above - and I would prioritize time together before - bowling, band practice, Pinterest, Facebook, sitcom marathons, clean toilets, pressed shirts, and softball games.
I am not saying those things are bad. I am saying that if I truly valued Christian community, all those others things would take a lower place on my To-Do list hierarchy. Instead of saying, "I have no time left over to invest in my church family..." - these relationships would get the first and best of my time. Not the leftovers.
If I truly thought I needed deeper relationships, I would pursue deeper relationships. People, I need to eat. No one has to tell me, "Camille, you need to eat today. You will become weak and die if you continually choose to not eat." I need rest. No one has to tell me, "Camille, you really need to get some sleep. You should seriously think about catching some Zs every now and then."
I need to eat and sleep to be healthy. I know I need these things. And when I have to do without food or rest for an extended period of time, you can bet your britches I'm going to get serious about finding a way to make them happen!
But seriously, do I really need intimate relationships within the body of Christ? I have friends and family outside of the church. Surely these other relationships are sufficient to meet my emotional and spiritual needs.
I don't think so.
In 1 Corinthians 12, the church is described as a body, made up of many members. In Romans 8, we are called sons and daughters: we are God's family. In 1 Peter 2, the church is likened to a building, made up of many individual stones (you and me!). Jesus himself describes our relationship to him and to other believers this way: He is the vine; we are the branches.
A finger (or an eye, heart, or lung), isolated from the rest of the body, is dead. Even if that finger is sitting on a pew right next to the body, if it is not plugged into the circulatory and respiratory systems, if it is not in living, active relationship with the rest of the body, that finger is dead.
An individual is not a family: the word "family" implies parents and siblings. A single brick is not a building. A twig, separated from the rest of the plant, is simply a dead piece of wood. Community and deep relationship are intrinsic in all of these images of the church.
God, through his Word, clearly communicates that, yes, we do indeed need deep, intimate, meaningful relationships with others in the body of Christ.
Whatever reason I give for not pursuing deeper relationships within the body of Christ - "I don't really want," "I don't really need" - they all boil down to rebellion against God.
"I'm too busy."
"I'm too tired."
"I'm not good enough."
"I am afraid."
If I am not pursuing meaningful relationships with my sisters and brothers in Christ, I don't need more time or energy or strength or courage.
No, I need to repent.
5 months ago