A FAMILY OF FRIENDS

Believers Share Their Lives. “They met together constantly, sharing their lives with each other… breaking bread together, and in prayer…they were of one heart and mind …they met in small groups in their homes….and all the people respected them. Each day they grew as God added  to their number” (Acts 2: 42-47. Our translation)

Loner-ism: I’ll Do It Myself. Contrast the strong sense of community in that first church with our own day. Born fighting for independence and individual rights, we may be the most independent people ever. How many of us grew up hearing, “stand on your own two feet”?  “I’ll do it myself,” is a mantra kids learn early on.

Modern technology drives this attitude to comical extremes. Lone drivers wheel around with new car seats no one ever sits in. Folks at Starbucks twitter others they’ll never meet, surrounded by strangers they’ll never get to know. The younger crowd plays video games with invisible “friends” in cyberspace. Parents might work alone in cubicles, flanked by co-workers they don’t know. We are becoming experts in impersonal relationships. Even in our churches we are moving further away from each other.

Christians Anonymous. Unless we are in a small congregation, we rarely know our fellow members. What’s sad is that it seems perfectly OK with us. Some time ago, at worship, I saw the face of a lady only once, when she turned around when we greet each other. We smiled, shook hands and mumbled something. The rest of the service I saw only her hair do.

Recently at a small group task force, a member of the church staff admitted she was quite lonely when she first came to our congregation. She believes there are plenty of lonely people among our members, some with no real friends in or out of the church. We are all too often  a family of strangers.

I find loner-ism in some worship songs and hymns. When is the last time we’ve sung, “We are One in the Spirit”? Some songs stress my relationship with God to the exclusion of almost everyone else, declaring “all I need is Jesus”. Yet in a crisis we probably dial 911. Why don’t we sing “Onward Christian Soldiers” anymore? Is it because “all one body, we” are words we find awkward, since we’re fragmented into thousands of splinter groups, often competing for members?

Koinonia. This was not the church Jesus built nor the church of the apostles, where koinonia was paramount. Translators render it “fellowship”, but that’s become a word meaning a cup of coffee in the church hall. The real meaning is “shared life,” or “community.”  Jesus laid down a key principle of church growth when He commanded his disciples to love each other that they would be known as His true followers. They did obey him, developed koinonia, and did the world ever notice them! In three centuries their reputation for mutual love helped conquer an empire and paganism.

“They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

We Don’t Get No Respect. St. Luke often uses the Greek word, homothumadon to describe the first church. KJV and ASV translate it accurately: “with one accord”. Others use “remarkable harmony.” They faced the world, good and bad, as God’s bunch. As a result, Luke says, ”all the people respected them”.  Just as Jesus said, And they grew–explosively. . God added to their numbers daily, honoring their commitment to Him by showing commitment to each other.

Wouldn’t it be great if your congregation had the genuine respect of unbelieving neighbors? What if they gossiped, “you know, those folks over at First Church really take care of each other!” Respect! Can we expect to reach them without it? Good public relations is vital for any enterprise that wants to succeed. The church is no different. (See our other posts under, How to Grow a Church)

Family of Friends.  We can’t be friends with everyone, of course, but we can be friends with some. But how can I be friends with even a few, if I have no way of getting to know them? Organizing authentic small groups is the best answer.

Moses ran a nation on small groups. Jews still require ten good men to start a synagogue. Jesus launched his movement with 12 men, three of whom he had a special bond. Paul gets credit for growing the church, but he couldn’t have done it alone. He surrounded himself with a team of men and women, such as Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, Luke, Priscilla, Aquilla and others. Did they have problems?  You bet. But they worked through them.

To have a group of people’s love and trust is a pretty neat thing. My friend Doug and I meet weekly at our local McDonald’s for fun, a snack, study, prayer and witness. We first met in a small group 30 years ago. We are very different but we enjoy genuine koinonia and treasure it.

Koinonia means we are in this together. Isn’t it an idea whose time has come back? As one wag said, “We had better hang together or most assuredly, we shall hang separately.”

Has your congregation been able to successfully develop a sense of community?  Let us know how it was accomplished, especially in larger churches or ones with multiple services.

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