Being part of a church is like being part of a family. You don’t just go to church, like going to a club; you belong to a church, part of the family.
This is great news. But we have to be honest and accept that many people have not had such a great family experience in churches. In fact you may be one of them. Maybe in a past church there wasn’t much of a family feel, but just a focus on right behaviour and towing the line. Or maybe there was a great family feel in the church, but everyone was quite happy in the relationships they had and there wasn’t much chance of anyone new breaking in to become part of it. Maybe you’re part of this church, and you don’t feel like it’s a great family!
If you’ve had a bad experience of church, it may be easy to hear teaching on belonging to the church family with some scepticism. “It’s a lovely idea, but it just doesn’t reflect reality”
It’s true that sometimes church might not feel like the family that we see described in the New Testament. I don’t want to minimize the pain that can be caused when things do go wrong in church; the wounds we receive at such times can go deep and the pain is genuine. However, it’s important that we don’t allow past painful experiences to colour of view of all church! Instead let us come to church with a willingness to be part of this growing family, a desire to belong and to make this work.
And it does take work
Creating a culture of family and belonging in the church won’t happen by accident. It takes work on our part.
1) it takes grace. We are all on that journey of developing holiness (that the Bible calls sanctification), and we are more than likely going to make mistakes or rub each other up the wrong way. I don’t know about you, but some of my biggest arguments have been with the members of my family!
If we want to be family – we need to decide to have grace for one another. Be patient, be quick to forgive, choose to give each other the benefit of the doubt.
2) it takes intentionality. You may be related to someone – but you still need to choose to spend time with them! The same is true in church. The way to create family is primarily to create good relationships – and one of the best ways to grow relationship is through spending time together.
Imagine a couple in the early stages of courtship. He invites her along to a sports match he wants to go to. She invites him to go see a chick-flick. And they go. She’s not at all interested in sports, he thinks chick-flicks are boring – but they go, because they want to spend time together. So it is with us – there may be events going on at church which are not ‘your thing’; consider going anyway – because they present the opportunity to spend time with others. You don’t need to go to every event there is – but challenge yourself to go to a few, just for the purpose of getting to know people.
And if there are no events that you feel particularly interested in – why not organize one yourself? Invite a few people round to join you in a hobby you enjoy, or to go out to a public event together. Or if you prefer smaller numbers to groups, be brave and invite someone you don’t know very well to join you for coffee, or a pint, or lunch!
3) it takes love. If you want to feel part of a family – start by choosing to love those who are around you. I don’t mean just feeling nice fuzzy things – but by actively looking for ways to love and serve people. Is someone on their own for a week while their spouse is travelling? Why not invite them round for dinner? Have you noticed that someone’s been feeling ill and not getting out much? Perhaps you could offer to get some groceries in for them? Is there someone relatively new to church coming to a social event? Maybe offer to meet up with them before hand so you can go together (turning up on your own can be intimidating) There are countless ways – big and small – in which we can love people.
Having grace for people – being intentional about spending time with people – loving people – in each of these ways you will find relationships deepening and strengthening; and as they do, the sense of family and belonging will grow too.