Five Celebrations of a Missional Community: Part Two
About seven years ago, a young man came to our Missional Community for the first time.
He came up the stairs, turned the corner, and bumped into me. I had never seen nor met him, so we exchanged a handshake and names. For some unexplicable reason, I then asked him, "So...are you married, dating...?" I could tell as he was tearing up that his relational status was the last thing I should have been inquiring about.
WHY THAT QUESTION?! I still beat myself up about that to this day. I was convinced we would never see him again.
In our series on the five celebrations of a Missional Community, we have talked about the essential intent of a group being the celebration of Jesus Christ. He is supreme as Creator and Sustainer, and sufficient as the Spotless Lamb who lived, died, and rose again to give new life. Missional Communities are vehicles in which we talk about him together, reveling in his glory and celebrating his work.
We continue with the celebration of connections. We get excited about initiating new relationships and going deeper in existing relationships. Being made for deep and meaningful connections, we seek to foster healthy friendships whereby we can know and be known, where the celebration of Christ becomes personal to us.
The first "not good" of God's very good creation came when he pointed out Adam should not be alone (Genesis 2:18). As God created man in his image, being in relationship with others was part of his design. It would have been impossible for Adam to bear the image of God without having deep and meaningful connections with others like him. God has always existed in eternal community where mutual love and honor was shown as Father, Son, and Spirit. To be made in the image of God without meaningful connection was not possible.
Where God's image was to be reflected, relationships were necessary. And they remain necessary, though sin has done much damage and distort the ways in which we connect with others. Rather than partnering with our God in the care of his creation, we found ourselves isolated and on our own. We were forced to turn inwardly, looking out for #1 while seeking others to do the same. Connections and friendships have always been messy, difficult, and often the source of some of our greatest pains.
But. The reconciliation we have found through faith in Christ also has impacted our relationships (Ephesians 2:14-22). Caring for one another is now a part of our identity in Christ, loving as we have been loved, serving as we've been served, forgiving as we have been forgiven. Where there was once strife due to selfish desire, we now find peace due to selfless desire. And it is this love for one another that shows we are Jesus' disciples (John 13:34-35), when our relationships reflect the peace and shalom Jesus purchased for us on the cross.
In Christ, we are now obsessed with unity and peace as it is a reflection of the gospel reconciliation, and it is the fertile ground in which speaking truth in love fosters fruit. We celebrate new and deepening connections as they are necessary for our ongoing growth in grace. We fight for unity (Ephesians 4:1-16), we pursue peace (Matthew 5:9), we look at the logs in our own eyes before we pick away at others' specks (Matthew 7:3).
As we celebrate Christ in his supremacy and his sufficiency, in community, as a family, we also rejoice in the connections we have with others.
Meeting someone new becomes something amazing. As C.S. Lewis said, "There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal." On my street, there are four families who came from China and now in Fargo. It blows my mind to think about how someone born so far away could be geographically so close. To meet them and to hear of their story is astonishing. As a recovering introvert, I'm beginning to see more and more how special it is to meet someone. To look them in the eye, shake their hand, express excitement at the opportunity, and to learn their story. I am learning to celebrate this more and more.
As hard as it is, this growing excitement and celebration of new connections has informed my approach on Sunday. My office can be a welcoming place, an introvert's refuge, but meeting someone who wandered into our building for a service is more and more amazing, intriguing, and exciting. And not only the chance to meet someone, but to invite them deeper into my life and the life of our church.
Many of us are introverts, and even for the best extrovert making new connections with people can be intimidating. People are messy, connections often disconnect. We feel pain, hurt, disappointment. But as those in Christ, we are set up to deal with this. We have received much grace, we can show it. We have been loved very deeply despite ourselves, we can love the unloveable. We have been forgiven, we are empowered to forgive.
When someone receives a personal invitation to a Missional Community, it shows a desire to make a meaningful connection, for which we are all made. We are not only extending a hand to shake, but a friendship where mutual encouragement, influence, care, and love can be shown. When they actually show up to your group, it is a chance to continue knowing them, loving them, and celebrating Christ with them.
When your group is serving, it means meeting one person, getting to know them, sharing someone of your own life, and there a connection has been formed.
So what makes initiating a new connection intimidating and difficult for you? When someone new crosses your path, what is your default response? Mine is head down, look busy, keep moving. I am learning to fight these tendencies. It is becoming more of having my head up, make eye contact, slow down, extend hand, share name, ask for name, welcome them, start to learn their story, start to share mine. Or something like that.
The young man ended up staying in our group because during a very troubling time of life, he found meaningful connections with others who were celebrating Christ. A couple from our group got married, and at their ceremony the young man met the bride's best friend. They are now married, after my wife and I did their premarital counseling and I officiated their ceremony. Meaningful connections are not always coming from the places you would expect, nor have the outcomes you would expect. But our God brings people into our lives at the exact right time to make us more like Jesus.
We must not only be open to connections forming and deepening, but we must expect them and celebrate them. This is crucial to our ongoing celebration of Christ, cultivating fruit in our lives and the lives of others, seeing people converted to faith, and be conformed more and more into the image of Christ.
Lewis quote from The Weight of Glory.