How Community Changed My Life

Despite her petite frame, I was a bit intimidated by Lindsay when we first met a few months ago.  She’s a lovely, capable woman who is passionate about many things. Fortunately, we both volunteer with our high school youth group and I had an opportunity to discover we have a lot in common – coffee, books, travel, writing. Lindsay is sharp and articulate and I’m happy to have her thoughts here on Primitive Roads. Her experience with community is very similar to mine and my guess is that many of you will relate as well.

Community Series

How Community Changed My Life

I will never forget the Tuesday night during my junior year of college when I made the trek over to a table with a sign that read “Core Group Sign-Ups.” I put my name down on a piece of paper, committing myself to meeting weekly with a group of girls I had never met.

I will also never forget the first time our rag-tag group met. We sat in a circle on the floor, staring at each other and the platter of food that remained untouched. I remember looking around the room, thinking, “this is a horrible idea. I have nothing in common with these girls…well, maybe that girl. She scrapbooks.”

Even though 5 years have passed since then, I don’t mind when Mama Jess (the nickname earned by our leader) brings up the early days when we were afraid to speak and wouldn’t dare pray out loud. It reminds me of how far we have come together. We’ve been through break ups, mission trips, roommate drama, break ups, graduation, career choices, engagements…did I mention break ups?

After two years of walking with those girls, I had a new group of best friends. But I also had something better–the confidence to sign up for retreats, mission trips, intentional living communities, and even an internship abroad.

Through it all, my life was completely transformed.

I realized that some people actually make God a priority in their life- and the result is a life full of joy.

I learned the importance of having people to keep you accountable.

I discovered how easy it is to build relationships with people when you are serving the Lord together.

I learned to put others before myself.

I learned that love and discipleship are the keys to the Christian faith.

I learned that God designed this thing called “life” to be done with others.

I will admit that it hasn’t all been smooth sailing since then. It usually isn’t. The periods of growth and transformation tend to be the most painful.

And now I face a new challenge. Like most recent college grads who are trying to figure out where they will land, my many moves have brought me to a new place. A place where I have struggled to find the community that came so easily in college. It is only recently that I have noticed the repercussions this has brought as I have slipped into my old ways. Remember that list of ways my life was transformed through community? It seems like these days the opposite is true:

I’ve pushed God onto the back burner, resulting in loneliness and exhaustion.

I have no one to keep me accountable, which has led to some poor decisions, like entering into dating relationships that I had no business pursuing.

I’ve become selfish and resent the time that I spend “serving the Lord.”

I find myself living a boundary-less life. Without community that respects my “no”, I end up saying,  “yes” to a lot of things I am not passionate about.

I’ve forgotten how to love anyone other than myself.

I’ve learned (and prefer) to do life on my own.

I know that my natural instinct is to turn inward when I am in trouble. Just like Adam and Eve, who hid their nakedness from God after they sinned, we are afraid to expose our sins, our struggles, and our weaknesses to those around us. We like to act as if we have it all together. But it is only when we are able to humbly confess to one another that we need help that we will be able to grow and triumph. With the support of a great community we feel confident enough to take risks.

Sometimes the biggest risk of all is acting on your need for community. I will admit that it took me two years to walk up to that table. I made an excuse every week about why that “wasn’t for me.” But really I was just scared. Because I knew it was risky; I would have to talk about “important things”, and I had always shut that part of myself off.

And now I find myself back at that place. But luckily I’ve seen the wonderful things that community can bring, and that is what I honestly desire.

So what is stopping you? Do you need someone to walk to the sign up table with you? I’m headed back there myself. Together, I think we can do this.

blog picLindsay is a Starbucks loving city girl who has been displaced to rural Northern Idaho. She blogs about faith, relationships, and anything else that can be considered a “grey area”.

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When Someone Shares YOUR Gift

Cupcake

THE GIFT NICHE

Looking down at the plate of cupcakes, I was torn between admiration and envy.  The ladybug toppers looked like they came straight from the pages of Hello, Cupcake!. I starred, wishing I could come up with a genuine compliment that didn’t have jealousy written all over it.

Those expertly decorated cupcakes were a birthday surprise for my husband’s supervisor. I may have been able to celebrate this pretty, petite girl’s kind gesture had she not innocently turned to Tim and asked when his birthday was, hinting he would also receive a plate of tasty treats come February.

My inner girlfriend (Tim and I were only dating at the time) was up in arms.  This girl had inadvertently threatened my security.  My hackles were raised less because she was doing something for my Tim, but because she was doing something (and excelling at it, I might add) that I considered my territory.

I was the stellar baker, the girl who gave good food gifts, the hospitality minded one.  I considered these skills part of my specific gifting from God.  Weren’t we always taught that  there are many parts, but one body? (1 Corinthians 12:20).  In the prideful compartment of my heart, I liked the thought that cooking/baking/hospitality was my niche in community.  MY niche.  I didn’t really want to share it.

The more my community changed – switching churches so Tim and I could worship together, moving to a different state – the more I encountered people with similar gifts. I could tell by my reactions of resentment and protectiveness that I had derived too much value from this self-prescribed niche.

My pride kept referring to verses about many members in one body, clinging to the part about differing gifts. I was striving to remain indignant about other people sharing my gifts.  But, I couldn’t reconcile my prideful stance with what I knew was true about the purpose of community and how our gifts were supposed to operate within community.

THE TRUTH ABOUT COMMUNITY

Community builds up and encourages.

Community points others toward Christ.

Community is about Kingdom building not self-promotion.

Community shares.

Community fills in the gaps and works together.

Romans12.4

COMMUNITY AND THE GIFT NICHE

In light of what I knew was true about community, I couldn’t glaze over certain parts of the “many members, one body” verses I had previously used to support my pride.

Be honest in your estimate of yourselves, measuring your value by how much faith God has given you.  Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body.  We are all parts of his one body and each of us has different work to do.  And since we are all one body in Christ, we belong to each other, and each of us needs all the others.  God has given each of us the ability to do certain things well.  {Romans 12:3-6}

God had outlined the correct thing to do when people share your gift and I was disregarding virtually every bullet point.

  • Derive value from the faith God has given. Nope, I was busy measuring my value like it was five cups of all-purpose flour.
  • Each part has a special function. This was my defense, but I was ignoring the fact that our creator supersedes our gifts.  We are merely parts of the whole, the whole being God.
  • We each have different work to do. Whether someone else has the same type of gift/niche that I do, we have different applications for that gift.  Our sphere of influence is different and our personal history is different.  My baking a plate of cookies for a neighbor is different than the cute cupcake baker taking a plate of her beautiful creations to a Campus Crusade meeting.
  • We need each other. As much as I love Simon & Garfunkel, we are not lonely rocks sitting in the sea, an island surrounded by nothing but water.  We function as ONE body.  I think I would combust under the pressure of being the sole arbiter of hospitality if only one person could fill that role.  Our gifts are group territory, used to help carry the burdens of community.
  • God is the source of our gifts. It is only by God’s grace that I function the way I function.  He gave me the ability to cook and bake well and it should be for His glory that I do those things.

So, the next time someone brings a dozen cupcakes that look like members of a big-top circus to a church potluck, I may have to swallow pride initially, but I will rejoice with them – rejoicing that they are creating in honor of The Creator, exercising their gifts for the benefit of His body (and my stomach!).

Community Series

Go. Find. Use.

We have a history, this girl and I.  A. R. (I gave her that pen name, thank you very much!) and I have weathered 25 years of friendship.  She isn’t lying when she talks about being an observer.  I’ve benefited from her insight on human nature, intimacy with God, and insanely funny sense of humor. Without further ado: A. R. Hamilton on community.

Community Series

Go. Find. Use.  by A.R. Hamilton

My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. {Colossians 2:2&3}

I must start this with a confession, one that is necessary for two reasons. What I am about to tell you is something that needs to be brought to light, for it is the ammo that my treasonous flesh offers to the enemy. But that is not the only reason, for if it was, I fear that I might not tell you. The second reason I must admit this is because it is also the thing that God uses the most for good in the community that I reside in—the place where I gather for fellowship with my brothers and sisters in Christ.

There is this strength called individualization. (It’s from the strengths finder test – reference for those of you who have taken this test, but for those of you who haven’t, it’s insignificant, keep reading.)

The people who have this strength are keen observers, noticing the uniqueness of each individual and the strengths that they bring to the table. This person not only notices these things in people, but they enjoy gathering this information; they enjoy observing how each person thinks, builds relationships, and finds motivation.

I have this strength. So I both innately and intentionally, for I really do enjoy it, notice little things about people, particularly my friends. However, I have been made aware that it is not just my friends.

In the last two weeks, there have been two individuals who, I must admit, I don’t know very well, even though they reside in my community and have for quite some time now. In my last encounters with both of these individuals, I noticed that something was wrong. I noticed that they were not “okay.” Initially, however, I did not approach either of them about this.

For two reasons: As I said, we are not close. But also, I feared that in approaching them I might discover that I was wrong. For I couldn’t help but also note how seemingly “okay” they seemed to the others. The first individual ended up confirming my suspicion by later sharing what was going on. The second, however, I asked.

After a long talk about the hardships she has been facing, she thanked me for asking; she especially thanked me for noticing. And as I walked away, I couldn’t help but give credit to God. Not out of modesty, but because He had made me very aware that it had nothing to do with anything that I did. It was the strangest thing – noticing something so personal in someone that I barely knew.

Members of God

My point. This strength gives me two things. First, it gives me the God given ability to know the specific way that someone needs to be encouraged in that moment – insight to what it is that would build them up. But also, it gives me the insight as to what it is that would tear them down. Since I am both flesh and Spirit, gathering both of those things in my observance of others comes natural to me.

Actually my point. We each have a strength that I believe He uses the most in order to build up the members of our communities. The communities that we are all commanded to not just reside in, but go to for the encouragement that we need to keep running this race, to keep fighting for the expansion of the Kingdom of God. Within each of us He has planted a gift that He intended us to use to encourage the hearts of others, to unite us together with love, and to bring us into understanding the full riches and mysteries of God.

For, just as we each have a unique gift, we each have a unique relationship with Him; no one knows God in the specific way that we personally do. By sharing that relationship in our community, and using the gifts that are a part of that relationship, together we gain a better understanding of Him. We become a place where hearts are healed and souls are set free from the bondage of sin. We become a force to be reckoned with. We become the tangible members of God.

My petition to you: find your strength and figure out how He wants you to use it. If you do not know, ask Him. He will tell you, I promise. For it is the desire of His heart that we use this gift how He intended us to.

Join the conversation! What are your strengths?  How do you see God using them for good in your community? Are there ways your strengths go rouge?

A.R. HamiltonA.R. Hamilton is almost finished with her second Masters Degree from California State University San Bernardino.  When she’s done, she’ll have an MA in Education with a focus in curriculum and instruction and concentration in English and an MA in Composition and Rhetoric.  When she’s not in school, A.R. is mentoring high school girls or learning more about personality types.

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Koinonia

It’s time to hear from the lovely Sarah Rose about community!  Sarah was a vital part of my community in SoCal.  I spent too much time being threatened by her awesomeness in the beginning, but we eventually bonded over perfectionism, books, and coffee dates. She has one of the biggest hearts for ministry and I’m happy to have her thoughts on Primitive Roads today!

Community SeriesKoinonia by Sarah Lochelt

Scott Peck defines community as “a group of individuals who have learned to communicate honestly with each other, whose relationships go deeper than their masks of composure, and who have developed some significant commitment to ‘rejoice together, mourn together,’ and to ‘delight in each other, make others’ conditions our own’.”

For Christians, we have a wealth of instruction in the Bible about what our community is supposed to look like. That doesn’t mean we always know how to live it out, though. In our society we cherish our right to retreat from others and often find ourselves emotionally isolated and detached.

What we truly need is the connection that the Bible calls “koinonia” (κοινωνία) – a deep intimacy that comes from experiencing life and pain and joy together. We translate this word as “fellowship” in church, though the image brought to mind with that word is often incidents of making awkward small talk over coffee and donuts. Instead, the more literal translation of koinonia denotes intimacy and contact, with concepts interwoven that related more closely to marriage than to shallow friendships.

When we commit to truly living out the koinonia kinds of relationships that the Bible calls us to with one another, we take on the instructions found in over 50 significant verses within the New Testament alone. (you can click here for a more complete list). We are instructed to love, care for, serve, and submit to one another. Within that list is also the teaching to show tolerance, not to lie, live in peace, to confess, and to forgive one another.

Romans 12.18

We live in a society that cares little about true forgiveness. Instead, we see it as means to make ourselves feel better; letting go of toxic bitterness that clouds personal judgment and impedes healthy interpersonal relationships so that we can be “mentally healthy”. Even within the Christian community, we often ignore the clear commandments to reconcile to one another within community and only concern ourselves with being “right with God”.

We have to start taking notice of the daily trials and annoyances that we find ourselves so easily holding on to, especially when it comes to those we spend the most time in close proximity with. Because our natural human reaction to hurt is self-focused and defensive, these feelings grow into bitterness and arrogance based on the hurt one felt was suffered unjustly and the vengeance one feels is deserved when not confronted and attended to.

For me, these are the times where the radical call to live peaceably with everyone, so far as it depends on me (Romans 12:18) is the most difficult to practice. These would be the situations when a friend doesn’t show up for a coffee date, a piece of information shared in confidence is repeated in mixed company, or a joke is made at the expense of another person. We face these situations daily where the practices of humility, long-suffering  and practical forgiveness are trained, refined and perfected if we would only be obedient.

Submitting humbly to one another means practicing the forgiveness and grace that we are so abundantly awarded from our Heavenly Father, and pursuing the challenge of being truth-tellers to create true koinonia fellowship among the church family.

Sarah LocheltSarah Lochelt is a 24-year-old California resident with a deep passion for true community. She enjoys seeing God work in the lives of high school and college students, she spends way too much time reading in coffee shops, and she is learning one day at a time how beautiful it is to let God be in control.

She received her Bachelor’s in Youth Ministry from Azusa Pacific University, where she currently works in the Office for Discipleship Ministries, and is also pursuing a Master’s degree in Counseling Ministry from California Baptist University.

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Conversation in Community

Since I’m admitting that I bought and devoured The Art of Civilized Conversation (which is a great read), you’ll know that making small talk isn’t one of my gifts.  Writing is my preferred mode of communication and until it’s socially acceptable to craft dialogue on index cards at a party, I would rather listen than speak.

When people get together, any number of things can be the center of conversation.  I would be the sort to refer to the weather.  One’s kids are sometimes a go-to topic while some venture into the realm of politics and foreign affairs.

FineLine

Often, I find myself talking about other people if there’s nothing else to be said.  “I saw on Facebook that George and Georgina went out to dinner last night.” or “Have you heard from Kelsey lately?”  I ask questions, sometimes idly, sometimes pryingly, to keep conversations going.  But, there’s a very fine line between facts and gossip – and most of the time, whether I intend to or not, I cross it.

I’m cautious not to malign my husband or family members, but I don’t always take the same precautions with other people.  My questions and topic choices don’t always encourage people to speak kindly of others, either.

In a gathering, especially of believers, our topics of conversation speak louder than we know.  If our lives are supposed to reflect God’s light, then Christ-followers in community should be positively glow-in-the-dark!

Psalm 111.1

Christian Community

Community exists to bring praise to God, more specifically, so that the good works of God will be proclaimed and remembered.  That verse in Psalms (above) was particularly poignant to me because it speaks specifically about Christian community.

Praise should be spilling forth amidst the upright and the congregation.  I’d like to roll my eyes and say, “well, obviously Christians would be praising God when they get together and when they’re at church,” but I know from my own example that we don’t always infuse conversations with praiseworthy topics.

Community is the perfect venue for proclaiming God’s work in our lives. Psalm 111 goes on to say, “the works of the Lord are great.  He has made His wonderful works to be remembered” (v.2,4). When we are in a group, we have a choice to gratify our lust for unnecessary details in other people’s lives, or to glorify God by remembering and praising Him.

Psalm 111.2,4

A consistent trait in the people I admire is an ability to infuse God into every conversation. It’s not annoying or obtrusive; it’s genuine, flowing from an honest heart and an authentic relationship with God.

I leave encounters with these people feeling encouraged – excited about what God is doing in their life and motivated in my own journey.  Should that not be the goal of every conversation?

My prayer: Lord, let my words be seasoned with love, joy, gratitude, and honesty.  May my contributions to conversations be what is praiseworthy and pointing towards You.  Help me to remember the wonderful works You have done in my life and share them with others.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.  {Hebrews 10:23-25}

Community Series