Create Family, Not Converts
Have you ever felt like a project? I have, and it stings. I know I've made others feel this way as well. In fact, this type of behavior is something I must actively guard against.
One year, after a series of upheavals and moves and a painful and disillusioning experience with a small town, local church, our family connected with a group of believers that met in a lay pastor's home. Initially, we felt welcomed in and loved--like we'd found more than a gathering of like-minded individuals. Like we'd been embraced into a growing family.
Until we were no longer new and others arrived and replaced us.
We soon realized we'd been a project, and once the lay pastor and his family deemed the task we represented complete, we lessended in importance.
You would think, having experienced the pain of this scenario, I'd guard diligently against mirroring it. And I want to, but it's all too easy for me to adopt our culture's individualistic, independent, task-oriented mindset where the mutual dependency of true and deep relational intimacy is spurned.
Lord, help me to love more like You!
One summer, our family spent a week in El Salvador. While there, we worshiped with another church, served at an orphanage, and helped facilitate nightly crusades. In each event, I was struck with how different the culture was from ours. The El Salvadorans took the idea of a spiritual family seriously. When they said, “She is a sister [in Christ],” they meant it. You could see their deep love for one another in their facial expressions and could hear it in their tones. But most importantly you could see it in their actions.
In El Salvador, if you belonged to Jesus, you were family. Plain and simple.
That’s not always true here in the states. We've learned to be independent and self-focused. We train our children to do hold the same mindset. Often, we allow life to revolve around them–their social and activity or sports schedules. We may ask them to give up an hour out of their seventy-two hour week (not counting sleeping time) to help with an outreach event, but what does that teach? Honestly, it might help exacerbate the problem by reinforcing the idea that service is done during a certain allotted time. When it fits in with our other demands. Relationships are self-seeking--for our pleasure and to meet our needs.
This temporary friendship mentality has trickled into the church. How often do we drop gospel tracts on someone’s door, never to see them again? Do we really think those people will somehow appear in our church because of a slip of paper? Or when a new couple comes to church, we’ll offer our friendship and invite them to dinner…until they become established, then we move on to someone else.
That’s not friendship and that’s not a body.
And here’s the deal. By conforming to our westernized, individualized culture, we’re losing out on one of the biggest attractions of the church. Our love for one another is meant to draw others to us, which in turn is meant to point non-believers to Christ. Many will come for the relationship first, and through this, will experience Jesus.
Knowing this, I must ask myself, continuously: How do I view your brothers and sisters in Christ? Not just those I get alone with or who have similar interests, but those who annoy me as well.
According to the Bible, they're my family. More than that, they are part of a living body. When I struggle to view them this way–to truly loving them as Christ loves the church--I must ask God to ignite His love within me and help me find ways to connect.
I also need to remember to focus on the long-term. No one likes to be a project. When we reach out to that new couple or share truths regarding Jesus with coworkers, we must ask ourselves, “Am I ready to be here for them, to continue to walk beside them, or am I just trying to ‘get them in’?”
People can tell the difference. One type of friendship draws them and creates a place of safety where others can heal and grow and learn about Christ. The other results in increased distrust and distorts the love of God.
Let's talk about this! What are some ways you work to counter our culture's indivdualistic, independent, and self-focused mentality? What are some ways we can love others more like Jesus loves us? Share your thoughts and insights with us in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage each other! And by God's grace, we truly can love others well--with the love with which Christ loves us.
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