Taking a break recently, we were wandering along a nearby beach when unexpectedly we met an old friend. In the ensuing chitchat she expressed how difficult it was to connect with people in her church, that she had done her best in reaching out to various ones but, despite promising, they hadn’t got back to her.
The result is that no meaningful contact has been established and this friendly lady is thinking about finding a more amicable church.
Then, last week, when I was in our local library a lady from another church recognised me and shared something similar: ‘There are so many lonely women in church that can’t seem to make a close relationship. It is so hard.’
We’ve also come across men who haven’t been able to connect in church life and be able to share their feelings. Then there are ministers of busy churches who do not have real friends to confide with. Some wrongly feel they can’t even share with their denominational leaders in case the ‘upper echelon’ thinks they aren’t spiritual enough.
The biggest shock is when a precious child confides with you that he or she feels they cannot share their heart secrets with anyone, not even their dad or mum.
The reality is that everyone needs a friend! We all need to connect meaningfully with someone or our lives, even as Christians, will indeed be very lonely.
Lonely…that’s a word meaning ‘sad because alone.’ Connect…that’s a word meaning ‘join together, unite.’
The words connect, connecting and connection are very scriptural. In particular the Message Bible uses connecting in the sense of closely uniting, especially in relation to Ezekiel’s vision of the temple (Eze. 40).
For Christians, today’s temple is church with the understanding that we are the temple of Christ (1 Cor. 3:16). Therefore in church circles it’s so important that Christians relate by connecting with one another and building mutual and meaningful relationships.
Love is all-embracive
Jesus gave a clear direction on this important matter: ‘Let me give you a new (meaning fresh) command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another.’ He went on to explain why this is so important: ‘This is how everyone (the world, unsaved people) will recognise that you are my disciples – when they see the love you have for each other’ (John 13:34-35 [brackets mine])
He was talking about love that is open to everyone no matter what culture, nationality, colour, education, irritating habits, personal problems or faults! There are no excuses for not reaching out to Christian brethren even if we don’t fully understand them or even their language! We simply appreciate them as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Recently we had the delight of ministering in a church where the brethren are from the Middle East and speak Arabic. What a joy to find them so open to the word of God, the moving of the Holy Spirit and so desirous of receiving our messages and the touch of the Spirit through our ministry.
We have connected with them, even by my (Robert) willingness to be embraced in their custom of hugging and ‘sacred triple kissing males on the cheeks.’ And what an unexpected blessing as a young Iranian, who so desires to be a prophet of God as well as seeing people come to Jesus, boldly gave me an encouraging word.
Yes, even we need encouragements from those who will make it a point to be our friends!
Connect is a great word. Dictionaries will explain that as well as uniting and joining it also means binding, fastening together, linking, establishing communication between, associating with, attaching.
To achieve a meaningful linking such as Jesus inferred means going out of our way to befriend people. Yes, it’s true that some people are hard to get on with and as God directs us to make friendships there’ll be times when we really have to make the effort and go the second mile. We may even find we are led to people we normally wouldn’t mix with but a beautiful relationship develops. And as we care for such people, we discover just how much they care for us.
Today a lot of churches use the word ‘connect’ to name their weekly home groups, such as Connect Group South. Funnily enough when we first church planted 30 years ago (way before church planting was a regular tag and few were really into such ventures), we called our five home groups connect groups.
Those were great days when we ensured that everyone in our growing church was connected, that no one would ever feel unwanted or lonely, even on Christmas Day if they lived on their own. We were strong on relationships as connecting means accepting responsibility and, like real love, it’s an action word!
Normally Pentecostal churches have a spot when the leader encourages everyone to greet one another. But, sadly, it’s so often a shameful case of the briefest of greeting, with flimsy handshakes and eyes staring around elsewhere. No real connecting and reaching out and, abruptly shortened by the leader, it’s almost a case of ‘Let’s get on with the service – quick.’
Recently while ministering in Baptist churches we were delighted to observe how the Baptos really took time to greet one another, and with strangers such as ourselves as well, during what they obviously considered an important time of their gathering together.
It was more than merely a rushed few moments – we thought they’d go on and on! But we saw real love demonstrated, caring and sharing together. And after the service and ministry time they were so anxious to fellowship further around the traditional cuppa.
These were more than catch-up times – people were meaningfully caring for one another and asking warm-hearted, concerned questions. Paul’s directions of greeting [ie. embracing in the arms]with a holy kiss fulfilled scripture (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 The. 5:26).
Back in the very beginning God’s heart was expressed as he recognised that his creation was lonely: ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; I’ll make him a helper’ (Gen. 2:18).
That’s a principle of caring that blesses each gender, both male and female, children, teenagers, adults and seniors. And what God intends for us, we must extend in connecting with one another. It’s so easy to go beyond church services and ‘do coffee or lunch’ with people, including the unsaved.
In 1 Peter 2:5, the apostle urges us ‘Don’t lose a minute in building on…’ and lists characteristics including ‘warm friendliness and generous love’ (v 7). He confirms in verse 8 that these qualities bring their own daily reward as well as maturity in Christ and desires us to have them ‘down in black and white’ (v15).
Whether emails, visits, phone calls and whatever our differences may be… let’s all connect!