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If I am honest, I usually see community and church as nothing more than forced interaction with others. As an introvert, being around a lot of people is very draining to me and I would rather stay isolated. Church has always been associated with tiresome interactions if I attend and a sense of guilt if I stay home. So, every Sunday morning, I face the dilemma of the guilt verses the drain. And this same internal struggle happened with small groups and Bible studies as well. Again, I saw them as forced interactions with people who were exhausting and would make me feel guilty if I missed any gatherings. It was easier and more comfortable to avoid church or small groups altogether. I could meet the Lord by myself, I loved this time by myself and it was easier than dealing with people. This is the way I lived for years.
But only recently, the Lord has been showing me that there is a difference between how I saw community and what God calls us to be as His body. When we look through the Bible, virtually every community of God’s people goes terribly wrong. Why? I think it is for the same reason that I dislike church today, the focus of why to meet. Throughout the Bible, the Lord’s people have always focused on themselves and what others, including the Lord, could do for them. For me, I focused on the difficulties of coming together with my spiritual brothers and sisters.
In both instances, it was all about being ministered TO, not ministering to others. Clearly, the Lord calls us to think of others ahead of ourselves, but what does that look like? How does that not become nothing more than another instance of guilt-driven Christian service? If that is all that motivates us to serve others, we will quickly burn out and even hate community, just like I have in the past. I think the solution goes past who we focus on and onto how authentic we are in our interactions.
We must be REAL.
All of us have been in groups with people who spent time with us only because they had to. We could tell that they did not want to be with us and, as a result, we did not commit ourselves to them either. The relationships stayed superficial but they were easy and clean. Desires were not shared, hearts were not exposed and everyone remained clean and unhurt. But real authenticity requires commitment and time. In short, it is risky and messy.
At Flatirons Community Church, they like to ask the question, “Who are your 2 a.m. people?” Who are the people in your life that you turn to when things come unraveled at 2 a.m.? These are the people in our lives that are real and live “messy lives” with us. And these are the people to which we will give of ourselves. We are living life together. And it has only been in the last few years that I have experienced this kind of community and found that it is not only authentic, but energizing.
In 2006, when my wife went into labor with our son at 1a.m., we turned to our friend Kelly. When we explained the situation, she gladly took our daughter without complaint. She cared for Abbie and even took her to work and watched her all day. This inconvenience robbed Kelly of precious sleep, an unproductive day at work and turned her day upside down, but she accepted it with joy. She literally was a messy, dirty, authentic 2 a.m. friend for us.
Then, a few years ago, our friends Erik & Wendy moved in next door to us and we have shared that same type of real community. Our kids played together, we watched each others children, we had impromptu “game nights” and we jumped in when things fall apart.
For the first time in my life, I experienced real, authentic, Christ-like community...and I loved it. Who are your 2 a.m. people? What does community look like for you? I’d love to hear about it.
Brian Kuiper is a contributing writer for Dad Matters and the Assistant Manager of Audio Visual Services at Focus on the Family.
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