By Lisa Keane | MAMFC, LPC-S, REGISTERED PLAY THERAPIST SUPERVISOR, NCC
Sitting in my office week after week, I hear stories of hurt, betrayal, and unimaginable grief. One of the first things I do during the initial time to connect with a client and the assessment phase is to ask about their community in their day-to-day life. I want to know what their social support network looks like, if they have the support of a local church, and if they have people in their life that will love and support them through whatever difficult time they might be facing.
Sadly, more often than not, I hear stories of how people feel disconnected, don’t feel seen or heard, and certainly don’t have people with whom they feel they can be vulnerable and share their deepest needs. A true sense of community is often difficult for people to find and cultivate in a day and age when having the perfect Instagram photo and a perfect-looking life on Facebook seems to be more valued than being honest and vulnerable about the real struggles people are facing. Society tells us it is all about putting up a perfect façade. Not being real in our struggles prevents us from developing real community, because we never allow people to really know us. But, as a believer, we must strive to value community and cultivate it for ourselves in order to reverse these trends.
I wish I could say that I know community is easy to come by and ‘just follow these three, simple steps to get there.’ But what I know from my personal life is when that when we first were looking for community in our city, it was a daunting task for community! The idea of finding a new faith family that we could be engaged with on a deeper level sounded very overwhelming to us. We knew we needed it. We knew we wanted it.
But, the idea of vulnerability—the time investment to connect and the awkwardness of getting there—was not something we were looking forward to. My husband and I had both been in amazing faith communities at different points in our lives. So, we knew what we were missing. We were missing accountability as well as someone to come alongside you in times of trial and joys, and people to surround you when you didn’t think you could go on!
The faith community we all need as believers takes both time and investment. God created us to know others and to be intimately known by others. God calls us to community because he knows it is what we need, because He created that need within us! As a mental health counselor, I oftentimes see this need go unfulfilled. Typically, for believers, community often comes in the form of a church body or small group. The truth is, without that community and support, we are not likely to be emotionally or spiritually healthy.
Hebrews 10:24–25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Or Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpers another.” As I read these passages in scripture, I can’t help but imagine that in order to stir one another up or sharpen each other, we need a deep sense of community, vulnerability, and time investment with others.
God’s Word calls us to community that allows us to best glorify him. We can also face negative emotional consequences as a result of not engaging in community with one another. Barna Research Group did a study of how the last decade has changed America. The group found, “Ten years ago, slightly over one out of 10 Americans self-identified as lonely. Today, that number has doubled—a paradoxical reality in the full swing of the social media age(1).”
While we may say we feel connected and we may have over 1,000 friends online, we are still experiencing feelings of loneliness at a much higher rate today than we did in the years before social media existed. As a therapist, I can easily see the reason. There is a major difference between having people you know on the surface versus having people you know intimately, who know you deeply and who you trust wholeheartedly.
How do we stop having shallow relationships, or stop the overwhelming feelings of loneliness we experience? First, we have to acknowledge that we need connection in order to survive and thrive in this world. You cannot go at life alone. We know from multiple forms of research that people who feel more connected have lower levels of depression and anxiety. God is calling us to connect, and in turn, research shows it supports our mental health. Next, we have to make an effort to connect with people. Just attending church or communicating with people online will not fulfill your need for community. You have to step out of your comfort zone and sacrifice time in order to truly get to know people.
Lastly, you must be willing to be vulnerable. What is vulnerability? It is the practice of sharing with others what you are feeling and experiencing, even if it feels scary to do so. Scripture says in Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” This is why counseling is so helpful to the life of an individual struggling with community, as it offers an empathetic ear that brings no judgment and allows people to be seen and heard in very deep ways.
As the church and body of Christ, we must listen to one another, support one another when in need, and allow ourselves to be known by other people when struggling. Surface relationships and casual acquaintances will not be helpful to your spiritual or emotional health. These steps seem pretty simple to ‘check off’ and help us cultivate the community that we need. However, I know firsthand that this is not simple, It takes commitment and courage, but, it is so worth it!
How To Cultivate Deep Biblical Community
Invest time. As scripture says, do not neglect to meet with one another regularly.
Be willing to sacrifice for others. If someone needs help with a project or needs a listening ear, be willing to step out of your normal routine to meet them where they are.
Cultivate vulnerability by having time and space to share deep struggles, losses, and joys.
Be willing to ask for help. When you are struggling, ask for accountability, prayer, or wisdom from your community.
Invest in ministry opportunities together. Community that serves together, grows together!
Have meaningful times of contact and conversation. Be willing to set aside social time to dive deep into what is going on in each other’s worlds. Be willing to ask the hard questions and answer them honestly.
Study God’s Word in depth together. Through the reading of God’s Word, his spirit can stir you up together.
Remember Community is all about long-term relationships. Don’t expect it to happen overnight!
Don’t walk away when things get tough. Be willing to stick around through hard times.
Ask God to show you where you might be limiting community in your life. If you can’t seem to work through this on your own, contact a local counselor to talk through the roadblocks you might have to vulnerability and community.