Too late to try?
William and Stephanie have been small group leaders in their church’s college and career department for several years. Their town has two colleges and a large population of young professionals, so the makeup of their groups change from semester to semester and year to year.
Though they have enjoyed working with college students tremendously, William and Stephanie have begun to feel their relationships with others outside their small group have become superficial. Amid caring for their kids, assisting their parents, working and serving, they long for a more consistent and supportive group of friends their own age — friends who can truly understand the stage of life they are in.
They know their group members value the community they’ve nurtured for them. Is it too late for William and Stephanie to find a community for themselves?
As feelings of disconnectedness persist, people need biblical community
By Lisa Keane, MAMFC, LPC-S, NCC
Pathways Professional Counseling
Sitting in my office week after week, I hear stories of hurt, betrayal and unimaginable grief. One of the first things I do to connect with a new client during the assessment phase is to ask about their community in their day-to-day life. I want to know what their social support network looks like, if they have the support of a local church and if they have people in their life that will love and support them through whatever difficult time they might be facing.
Sadly, more often than not, I hear stories of how people feel disconnected, don’t feel seen or heard and certainly don’t have people with whom they feel they can be vulnerable and share their deepest needs.
A true sense of community is often difficult for people to find and cultivate in a day and age when having the perfect Instagram photo and a perfect-looking life on Facebook seems to be more valued than being honest and vulnerable about the real struggles people are facing.
Society tells us it is all about putting up a perfect façade. Not being real in our struggles prevents us from developing real community because we never allow people to really know us. However, as believers we must strive to value community and cultivate it for ourselves in order to reverse these trends.
I wish I could say community is easy to create: “Just follow these three, simple steps to get there!” But what I know from personal experience is that when we first looked for community in our city, it was a daunting task. The idea of finding a new faith family that we could engage with on a deeper level seemed overwhelming to us.
We knew we needed it. We knew we wanted it. But the idea of vulnerability, the time investment to connect and the awkwardness of getting there were not stages we were looking forward to. My husband and I had both been in amazing faith communities at different points in our lives. So we knew what we were missing. We were missing accountability. We were missing others to come alongside us in times of trial and joys, and people to surround us when we didn’t think we could go on.
The faith community we all need as believers takes both time and investment. God created us to know others and to be intimately known by others. God calls us to community because He knows it is what we need. He created that need within us.
As a mental health counselor, I often see this need go unfulfilled. For believers, community typically comes in the form of a church body or small group. The truth is without that community and support, we are not likely to be emotionally or spiritually healthy.
Hebrews 10:24–25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
As I read these passages in Scripture, I can’t help but imagine that in order to stir one another up or sharpen each other, we need a deep sense of community, vulnerability and time investment with others.
God’s word calls us to community that allows us to best glorify Him.
We also can face negative emotional consequences as a result of not engaging in community with one another. Barna Research Group has reported that “10 years ago, slightly over 1 out of 10 Americans self-identified as lonely. Today, that number has doubled — a paradoxical reality in the full swing of the social media age.”
We may say we feel connected. We may have more than 1,000 friends online. But we are experiencing feelings of loneliness at a much higher rate today than we did in the years before social media existed.
As a therapist, I can easily see the reason. There is a major difference between having people you know on the surface versus having people you know intimately, who know you deeply and who you trust wholeheartedly.
How do we stop having shallow relationships or stop the overwhelming feelings of loneliness we experience? First we have to acknowledge that we need connection in order to survive and thrive in this world. You cannot go at life alone.
We know from multiple forms of research that people who feel more connected have lower levels of depression and anxiety. God is calling us to connect, and in turn research shows it supports our mental health. Next we have to make an effort to connect with people. Just attending church or communicating with people online will not fulfill your need for community. You have to step out of your comfort zone and sacrifice time in order to truly get to know people.
Lastly you must be willing to be vulnerable. What is vulnerability? It is the practice of sharing with others what you are feeling and experiencing even if it feels scary to do so. Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” This is why counseling is so helpful to the life of an individual struggling with community. A counselor offers an empathetic ear that brings no judgment and allows people to be seen and heard in very deep ways.
Commitment and courage
As the Church and body of Christ, we must listen to one another, support one another when in need and allow ourselves to be known by other people when struggling. Surface relationships and casual acquaintances will not be helpful to your spiritual or emotional health.
These steps seem pretty simple to “check off” and help us cultivate the community that we need. Building Christian community takes commitment and courage, but it is so worth it.
EDITOR’S NOTE — Lisa Keane is clinical director for Pathways Professional Counseling, a sister ministry of Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries.
10 ways to cultivate deep biblical community
- Invest time. As Scripture says, do not neglect to meet with one another regularly.
- Be willing to sacrifice for others. If someone needs help with a project or needs a listening ear, be willing to step out of your normal routine to meet them where they are.
- Cultivate vulnerability by having time and space to share deep struggles, losses and joys.
- Be willing to ask for help. When you are struggling, ask for accountability, prayer or wisdom from your community.
- Invest in ministry opportunities together. Community that serves together grows together.
- Have meaningful times of contact and conversation. Be willing to set aside social time to dive deep into what is going on in each other’s worlds. Be willing to ask the hard questions and answer them honestly.
- Study God’s word in depth together. Through the reading of God’s word, His spirit can stir you up together.
- Remember — community is all about long-term relationships. Don’t expect it to happen overnight!
- Don’t walk away when things get tough. Be willing to stick around through hard times.
- Ask God to show you where you might be limiting community in your life. If you can’t seem to work through this on your own, contact a local counselor to talk through the roadblocks you might have to vulnerability and community.
Source: Lisa Keane
Humans were created for community by an inherently relational God
By Dayton Hartman
Special to The Alabama Baptist
We are an incredibly connected society.
We “like” one another’s pictures of our kids, our coffee cups and our devotional reading on Instagram. We argue ideas and post ridiculous memes on Facebook. We retweet one another.
Texting has become so common and accepted that there are no longer boundaries on the appropriate times of day to text. Most people even expect you to reply to their text within a matter of seconds. I’ve spoken with multiple people who suffer mild anxiety over the seemingly long intervals between exchanged texts with a friend or significant other.
We’ve never experienced this level of connectivity in human history and yet we are increasingly lonely.
Rise of loneliness
Recently I read a BBC article that documented the rise of loneliness across all generational lines but noted its marked presence among the youngest and most social media savvy generation: 16- to 24-year-olds.
How is it possible that in a social media driven world, we are somehow less “social?”
If you observe the societal landscape, most people are staring at their phones instead of engaging with other humans. Rather than giving attention to what the people in front of us are saying or doing, we are far too consumed with what other people are saying and doing on social media. It is bizarre.
The supposed purpose of social media is to increase human connectivity. Instead it has the opposite effect.
Our interaction with our screens is inherently lonely because it is not accomplished in community.
Additionally social media perpetuates human deception which makes living in meaningful relationship nearly impossible. Think about it: How honest are people on social media? Not very. We only post our wins, our victories, our happy moments and our best pictures. We do not offer our true selves on social media. We put forth a sanitized version of reality instead.
Moreover, our connectivity fosters human pride, another relationship killer. When you find yourself tagged in a group picture, who do you look at first? Your friends or your family? No, you look at the person you love most: You. If you look good, it’s a great picture, and you leave the tag in place. If you look bad, even if everyone else looks great, you untag the picture because it is a bad picture.
Our pride causes us to not only curate the sanitized versions of our online persona but to believe that the myth is reality.
All of this drives us away from a biblical concept of community and instead pushes us toward uniformity, where we all like the same things, have the same interests and celebrate the same things.
So what do we do? Well we’ve got to reclaim the biblical concept of the imago dei, the image of God present in humanity. Genesis 1:26–27 tells us, “God said, ‘Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.’ So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female.”
Theologians have written mountains of material explaining all the nuances of what it means to be created in the image of God, but one of the clearest explanations is that we were created for community by an inherently relational being.
There is one God and that one God is eternally three persons, a perfect community of relationships. Each person of the Godhead is equal in deity and attributes. However, each is distinct in their relational interactions. The Son is not the Father and the Father is not the Spirit.
We were made for relationship with this triune God and with one another. As a result our relationships with one another are inherently dynamic. In other words they do not breed sameness but instead there is an ebb and flow of ideas, interests, hopes, fears and gifting. We equally bear the image of God and yet we are relationally distinct.
A purely digital existence provides a form of community but it will ultimately turn into a community typified by a pursuit for uniformity which is not true community. Biblical community is distinguished by shared personal experiences, selfless acts of love and genuine diversity (Eph. 2–3).
We see examples of this in Acts 2:42–47 as the first Christians lived their lives together. They regularly ate meals together (v. 42), they would sacrificially use their resources to meet the pressing needs of others (vv. 44–45), they worshipped together (v. 46) and they lived their everyday lives on mission (v. 47). This kind of community can only be found in the Church.
All humans need and even crave what only the Church can provide: true community. Our hyper-connected world has not aided our pursuit of living out the relational aspects of the imago dei. Instead it has supplied us a faux experience that leaves our longings and cravings unfulfilled.
Spend less time pursuing connectivity in the digital world and more time living in community in the real world. After all a denial of our need for true community is a denial of our full humanity.
EDITOR’S NOTE — Dayton Hartman is an adjunct professor of religious studies at Judson College.