By Martin Schlomer
Have you ever had something really important that you wanted to talk about, but you didn’t know how? It’s a frustrating experience to say the least!
My issue is community or, more appropriately, friendships. Dan Amos, at the end of his Annual Report, writes a sentence that feels totally out of context. He writes, “Community is an Elim strength, but there’s much more to do as many are lonely and hurting, leadership included.” Why does he write this at the end of his report? He—and we—are frustrated, and he doesn’t know what to do about it. Dan and I have wrestled with this issue for many years. Overall, people experience Elim as a friendly, welcoming, and genuine community, but many experience great difficulty making friends. When push comes to shove, they admit they’re lonely. Some of these individuals are even leading ministries.
Why is this a problem? Is it just an Elim problem? This week, I’m in Phoenix visiting a church and shadowing their leadership team. This church has a reputation for “having their stuff together.” There are a number of things they’re doing that I’m interested in learning more about, and the way they catalyze community is one of them. Imagine the frustration I felt when I pressed them on the question, “How do you move your people into meaningful and engaging community?” and they said, “This is one of our weakest areas. We’re not doing very well.” This is one of the reasons I flew 2,000 miles and sat in a very small seat between two large men for three hours! Needless to say, this is not just an Elim problem; it is a human problem. We give reasons such as busyness, an inability to connect, shyness, lack of reciprocation, not knowing how, or past hurt. The reasons are numerous and varied. The result is that people often give up, throw in the towel, build walls of self-protection, or look for greener pastures.
What can a person do to deal with the problem? I used to believe that if we addressed the people’s reasons by structuring solutions or giving more biblical understanding regarding community, the problem would be fixed. However, while those strategies may have helped, the problem still persists. Believe me, over 20 years I’ve tried everything I could think of. Recently, however, I’ve been thinking about a simple yet profound verse that Jesus told all those who want to be His disciples.
So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are My disciples. John 13:34-35 (NLT)
These words provide the motivation and method for community relationships. Jesus is our motivation, and how we have experienced Him is our method. “What about me and my needs, my hurts and my disappointments?” According to Jesus, these reasons don’t determine my decisions or approach to relationships. I know, that sounds calloused. However, if Jesus used our reasoning, He would have thrown in the towel early in His ministry and left us for greener pastures. He never would have washed their feet. He never would have gone to the cross. Then where would we be? Jesus knew loneliness. He knew betrayal. He knew disappointment. He knew rejection. He knew [fill in the blank], but He never threw in the towel and left for greener pastures. He simply chose to love. He experienced community in the midst of the Trinity and He chose to share this community with us.
What’s the answer? My encouragement is threefold. First, as you engage individuals, speak into their lives words that Jesus has spoken into your life. Second, do for others what Jesus has done for you. If you have received mercy, show mercy; received grace, show grace; received encouragement, give encouragement; received forgiveness, show forgiveness. You get the idea. Third, think about the words that you long to have spoken into your life and give others the gift of these words. By doing these simple things, we may change another person’s life as well as our own. We begin to change from the inside out! But there is more: “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are My disciples.” In doing these things, we begin to change from the inside out, and we show to the world that we are Jesus’s disciples.