What is the church to me?
I could not 100 percent say it was for the community. Despite attending Bethel for nearly my entire life, I will have to admit that sometimes I found more solace with friends outside the church as opposed to those who I am supposed to call brothers and sisters in Christ. Regardless, I attended the retreat to escape the day-to-day and to learn what would be shared on the topic of community.
We were asked, “Is Christ truly the center of your relationships, or was it based on preferences?” In my reflection, I saw preferences being a heavy influencer on my relationships with others, whether I expressed it or experienced from others. Often, the common after worship service topics were ones that I could not relate to, even if it was about Christ. I could barely connect with others and was only having surface level conversations. Over time, I lost patience. I chose not to participate in the community, and consequently, leave immediately following service’s conclusion every Sunday. Some may say I robbed myself of opportunities to connect with someone in church. Nonetheless, I saw it as saving time to be with others I already relate with. Why make the effort if it wasn’t working? As selfish as it is, I preferred to be with those I already know who care about who I am.
Our discussion group shared experiences about when we felt the church had disappointed us, which led to concerns with bringing friends or family, who do not identify themselves as Christian, to church. Drawing from experiences with our church community, we had worries with how someone they meet would potentially hurt them and impact their view of the Christian church and in the long run, affect our relationship with them. Despite this, we must be aware that we are not perfect beings and thus, guaranteed to fail each other. However, the beauty in weakness opens an opportunity to demonstrate Christ’s love and allow those who do not know Him to witness for themselves.
Pastor Michael, the guest-speaker for our Thrive Retreat, helped solidify the sentiment that some of has had into words. The church will disappoint. It is not perfect. Thus, everyone is at fault for contributing dysfunction to the community, including myself. But we learned the answer is the same response to many of our other questions in life and that is that we have to respond with Christ’s love and forgiveness. Even if we are wronged by those in the church, we would need to return with Christ in mind. Our individual response impacts the church community, and it will either build or tear down our sense of belonging. As ideal as it is, even if we know we should respond by individually choosing to meet unfamiliar people, making the effort for fostering inclusion, and forgoing preferences and differences for Christ centered relationships; to a greater degree, it is very difficult, complex, and exhausting. It is not completed in a day; it is built and practiced over time.
While I did get to meet new people and speak with others I have not met for a while, I still floated to people I was familiar with. I am not sure if I can set aside my preferences for how I meet with others and to speak with the commonality of Christ in our lives when there is no other shared experiences. However, I cannot expect to have community with the church if I don’t know the people, much like I cannot expect to have a relationship with God if I don’t know him well enough. Maybe, despite the lack of shared interests, there is a chance to create a shared experience together in a different way with Christ. With the lessons learned, if I truly desire a Christ centered community and deepened sense of belonging, I know that I’ll need to be weary of the actions I choose. My actions, whether it’s choosing to grow in God’s Word in solitude or intentionally getting acquainted with someone to start a connection, will have an effect, however small it may seem, on the church community as a whole.