Driving along a highway, that’s straight as an arrow, across the Canadian prairies, you’ll come to a bend in the road where there’s a small community you’d miss if you blinked. The only thing that stands out is the old grain elevator towering above the horizon.
In that town there’s a quiet bay surrounded by a dozen homes, many filled with a handful of kids. Not as noiseless as it may seem located in this tranquil place. Life and activity abound in their play.
I love serving up cups of hot cocoa to frosty faces and ungloved hands after rounds of sledding, digging and climbing on the hill on the street. When I pick up freezie wrappers and nerf bullets across my yard, my heart melts knowing they've enjoying frozen treats and adventure. Some early mornings I’ll notice a bright-eyed smiling face peering through the window in our front door on the hunt for someone to play with.
In reflecting on the gift of community, I’m reminded of the importance of play as a tool in building connectedness.
When we were church planting overseas, our team leader had a motto: “Teams that play together, stay together.”
Though the time we spent together was only a handful of years, we enjoyed moments of fun in weekly game nights and watching movies on the laptop that had the most battery power.
Play builds community. It gathers us, relaxes us and bonds us, which leads to opportunities to know and enjoy each other more. You discover who’s the most competitive, who prefers adventure to a chick-flick and which baked goodies are a favourite.
Truth is, I'm not a particularly playful person— I'm kinda boring. Often, I'd rather be snuggled under a blanket reading or engaged in a deep conversation (but a basketball, hockey sticks and jiu-jitsu reels get me close).
Recently, a newcomer to our church commented, "this church really places a high emphasis on fellowship."
Naturally, my personality tends to baulk a little at this with worry we're trading substance and sanctification for coffee and camaraderie. (Yes, this from the gal who just came out of seminary and reads a lot for fun).
As humans, we’re relational, created and designed to be known and loved, in community with God and others. This unique attachment to one another is described by Jesus, “by this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35).
With friendship and familiarity, the door swings open to trust. It’s like when you meet your friend’s dog for the first time, you may be unsure of how they’ll respond, you hold out your hand, they sniff you and eventually let you pet them. Those first moments getting to know each other create a foundation for deepening the relationship.
Connection needs to be cultivated, relationships built one brick (or cup of coffee) at a time. It's part of Paul's words to the Thessalonian church that they "encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing" (1 Thess 5:11). Through knowing each other we build trust and a ministry of presence.
In a culture that esteems individualism, it’s no wonder fostering this is so important.
We learn from the example of the Lord Jesus as he sat with children on his lap and blessed them (Mt. 19:13–15), he relaxed with his friends for meals (Mk. 2:15), and he paid attention to those around him—the ones pressing up against him, the outcasts calling out to him, the government and religious leaders seeking him.
No one was outside of his notice. Their need was not neglected.
As I watch my children and the other bundles of energy flourish alongside each other in safety, I know if they need a bandaid for an injury, the line on their fishing rod untangled, or an extra pair of mittens, their community will help them out. They can head over to any front (or back) door and find willing hearts to lend a hand.
The early church also, “devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42), providing for each others’ needs, substantially more significant than hot cocoa or a bandaid.
So we learn to balance our efforts of Word-filled ministry while fostering connections. Relationships are ministry. Our love and care for each other shows a very independent world, the beauty of belonging and points to a love unlike any other, found only in Christ.
I see how blessed we are and I’m so grateful.
How have you seen the blessing of community?