Yesterday I mentioned 6 ways I think Faith Church does really well at being a loving church family. But how could we improve loving one another? We’re certainly not perfect. No church is. So today I am talking about ways that a church family can improve in their love for one another. I hope these will encourage you to love one another more deeply in your own church family.
Malcolm Gladwell had a recent podcast episode on memory. It really freaked me out. In the days after 9/11 scientists asked people a few basic questions like: “Where were you when you first heard about the attack?” “What were you doing?” “Who told you?” We love to talk about that kind of thing right? On September 11, 2001, I was in Kingston, Jamaica, feeding our neighbors’ rabbits because our neighbors were on vacation, and Michelle called me on the cell phone and told me to turn on their TV immediately. I was stunned. Where were you? What were you doing? Who told you?
So in the days after 9/11, people wrote down answers to these questions. Then they came back a year later, and the scientists asked them the same questions. Guess what? The people had different answers! In fact, the scientists pulled out the paperwork with the people’s original answers in their own handwriting, and the people stared at their answers in disbelief saying things like, “Why did I write that? That is not what I remember. That’s wrong!”
We’ve all experienced this, right? Memory fails us. You know this means? We should not automatically trust our faculties. Not that we doubt everything we think or remember. But when it comes to interacting with people in our church family with whom we disagree, we should be quick to say “I could be wrong about this.” That’s the first thing I want to encourage you to practice in love for one another. In a church family we need to give one another the benefit of the doubt. We should be quick to open up the possibility that we could be wrong.
I bring this up because in a church family we can disagree with one another. The presence of differing opinions is normal, and can even be healthy. I would actually be very suspicious if I heard of a church family that did not have differing opinions. In the family of Faith Church we have conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, young and old, male and female. We are diverse in those categories. That means we have plenty of opportunity for disagreement. We should not see that as a problem, but as the natural outflow of a family. We are not trying to achieve uniformity. Instead we are okay with variety and diversity. We are, however, trying to achieve unity, and that will require an intentional practice of humility, of saying “I could be wrong about this.”
Next it is easy to get in our comfort zone with our close friends, and it can be hard to reach out with someone new. We sit in the same seats during worship. So would you counteract this by sitting in new seats each week! That small gesture alone can help you interact with new people.
What can it look like to get out of your core group, or include more people in your core group? There is a comfort in what we know. It is familiar, expected. We generally feel best about that. To symbolize this, I encourage you to sit in a new spot every week.
But understand that some personalities will click more than others, and that’s okay. That’s part of loving deeply, that we find those we connect with and we dig deep. It is unrealistic to think we’ll be close friends with more than just a couple people in the church family. That’s normal. That’s how actual families are too. But don’t let that keep you from still reaching out to others.
Finally there is a phrase I have heard about a situation that has affected some in our church family.
In my almost 16 years here at Faith Church, I have heard multiple viewpoints on this phrase. This past week I asked numerous people to share their thoughts with me. It was quite interesting. There are many people who have moved to Lancaster for a variety of reasons, and with a variety of life situations, and unique points of view. In what I share here, I don’t want to give the impression that “one size fits all”. But I do think there is legitimate wisdom in many points of view, all of which I hope we can learn from.
The phrase I am talking about is what I call The Invisible Lancaster Wall. In our church family, most are from Lancaster, with a history in Lancaster. It is their home and they have a network here. But then there are some not from Lancaster. I’m referring to those who have moved here and maybe have lived here many years. Some of those not from Lancaster have told me that they feel like they hit The Invisible Lancaster Wall. Not all of those from outside Lancaster have experienced this, but some have, and they said it has been difficult.
Let me describe what those who have hit the wall have said to me. What they have said is that they felt very welcomed by the church, loved even, but then after a year or so, they hit a wall. A wall of exclusion. It is not necessarily an intentional exclusion. They have little or no family here, no network, and it feels to them like it is incredibly difficult to break through that wall and become family.
What I have heard is that the holidays, those times of the year with traditional family events, can be especially tough. Feeling alone, the holidays can be the loneliest, most painful times of the year, when the holidays are intended to be some of the most joyful times of the year.
My parents used to invite people from church over on the holidays. One guy who came multiple times was a really unique individual. He was previously homeless and came to us from Water Street Rescue Mission. He was unkempt, believed strongly in conspiracy theories (which led to some amusing behavior when my FBI uncle was at the family gatherings!), and had some bizarre obsessive behaviors like stroking his mustache really emphatically. But there he was at Thanksgiving dinner.
I have so appreciated what one family in our church has started. At numerous holiday meals they have an open invitation to anyone to join them. They have a heart for people who don’t have family! If you don’t have family to go to on the holidays, you can go to their house.
In any church family, there should not be a single person that is alone at the holidays, if they don’t want to be alone. Not a single one. Ask yourself: Who are the people in your Sunday School class, or in your small group, that might be alone on the holidays? Don’t assume that they are okay. Invite them to your home, and make them a part of the family.
But sharing meals at the holidays is not what makes a family. The loving relationships that Peter is talking about are day in, day out loving relationships. To be healthy they take work from both friends.
And that is what I found out when I talked with people from our church family who were not from Lancaster who had another view of making deep relationships in the church family. I got permission from them to quote them.
Here is what one of them said, “I never felt any non Lancaster vibes. I tend to think “If you want something, you have to go out and get it for yourself.” When I didn’t have a Lancaster network, I had to make one. Don’t get me wrong, most of those who would eventually become my Faith Church Family were welcoming and wonderful from the very beginning, but ultimately, once I was acquainted with the setting and people, how and where I got involved was my own doing.”
Another one said this, “In my season of blatant need, the church supported me, but did not spoil me. I had to learn that people were not at my beck and call every time I felt lonely or sad. And that benefited me greatly in the long haul. I learned that having a healthy personal life will lead to other healthy relationships. ”
One other person emphasized the importance of being in a small group and meeting consistently and choosing to open up to them.
So in conclusion, I hope you see this is a both/and. Reach out. Dig in. Mix it up. Go out of your comfort zone. Ask God to help you love deeply. This is for those of your who’ve been in a church family for a long time. And this if for those who are newer. Love. Look for new ways to love. And give grace to each other as we all learn and grow in this.