As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. - Proverbs 27:17
So I’m the new guy.
Being new has its perks and its difficulties. I spent the last eighteen years of my life in my previous context where I devoted time, energy, resources, tears, sweat, name memorization, prayers, and so much more to a church family. Now, I restart.
I’m the type of guy that loves to live in the Proverbs 27:17 world where there’s depth, understanding, admonishment, empathy, and sharpening. This is the world that everybody aspires to live in, even if at times they flee from the admonition and sharpening often associated with it. Unfortunately, the journey to get to the Proverbs 27:17 world involves small-talking, becoming known, feeling each other out, making first impressions, sustaining first impressions and changing first impressions.
In my short time here with my new church family, I’ve noticed in me a tendency to try and “play church.” Going to church. Putting a smile on my face. Attempting to live up to the expectation of what it means to be a vocational minister. Saying, “Let’s hang out!” without ever taking the necessary actions to set up that encounter. Putting myself in situations to be seen but leaving just quickly enough to avoid the conversation’s dead end.
In short: Enter with a smile. Small Talk. Listen to the word. Extend empty invitations. Exit with a smile. Repeat. This is playing church. Even staff members do it. Honestly, the stakes are much higher for us. So the question then becomes: “What do we do with this?”
None of the aspects of “playing church” are inherently bad in or of themselves. The problem lies in when those behaviors are for play and not for progressively becoming the authentic church. There’s a big difference between playing church and being the church.
Here’s what I’m talking about:
1 Corinthians 12:25-26
25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
1 Thessalonians 2:8
8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
When you ARE the church- a living, breathing, adorned bride anticipating the return of her bridegroom- you immerse yourself in the mess that lies in the hospital, not the museum.
You embrace the small talk because you know that the small talk will lead to deeper waters where you can tap into the Living Water. You put yourself in vulnerable positions to either be hurt or intimately loved regardless of the past.
I’ve had to remind myself of this as I wade through this new endeavor that the Lord has brought my family into. We cherish the relationships that the Lord has knit together from our previous church family, but we press on toward the blessings that the Lord has in store for us in our new church family.
For those of you that have struggled with moving from playing church to being the church, here are some helpful pointers that have assisted the Robinson family during this season of transition:
1. Show Up
This sounds like I’m trying to be Captain Obvious, but it needs to be said. I know you may be thinking that this is easy for me to say because I’m technically paid to show up. You’re right. I am.
But as a member of a church staff, I’ve seen what happens first hand when the weight of feeling tired from a long day’s work, or a long week of attending to life’s personal responsibilities, or a difficult season of dealing with the consequences of sin (your own or someone else’s) supersedes our commitment to showing up.
I get it. Life is busy. Everyone seems to be busy these days. I don’t mean to minimize our obligations. My hope is that you’ll realize that you’re not alone. You may be busier than others, but the solution is not more time but better stewardship of the time you have.
Showing up will take much sacrifice at times, but the fruit that comes from you doing so in a consistent and Spirit-led manner is worth it.
2. Environment Matters
You can’t deeply connect with others sitting in an auditorium.
Yes, there’s a oneness that everyone should feel in communal worship that shouldn’t be overlooked and disregarded. This is not me saying that your HomeGroup should replace corporate worship, but it’s a both/and situation. You committing to a HomeGroup should be the natural progression from corporate worship. This is where questions are asked. Scripture is applied. Laughter is heard. Pain is shared.
So, my suggestion to you is get plugged in. Commit yourself to rhythmically being an environment where depth in the relationship is experienced.
3. Forgive Past Offenders
Speaking of my experience as a vocational minister, I’ve also seen what happens to those that let their recent letdowns dictate their willingness to open themselves up to finding true community.
I’ve heard people say that they’ve tried church or they’ve tried Home Groups, and they’ve been burned. The dating process stinks. I’m not gonna lie. You’ve got to figure out if you like them. And even if you like them, you may get this vibe that they don’t like you for whatever reason.
Being the new person attempting to plug into an existing group of friends isn’t fun, at least for me it isn’t. I understand that some people love it. What ends up happening is we end up projecting those past experiences on our potential future experiences. I personally think that’s not fair to those other people, it’s not fair to yourself, and it’s unfair to the Lord.
I know all this is easier said than done, but I also know that believers have been called to a higher standard because the standard has been set by Jesus:
32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
We often translate these verses of forgiveness unilaterally with certain people, but our willingness to forgive people in our past frees us up to extend grace, tenderness, and trust to those we encounter in the journey ahead.
The Philadelphia 76ers are taking this approach. Unfortunately, their trust lies in the process of getting the number one pick for multiple drafts. It may work…
Believers, on the other hand, can put their trust and faith in a process of surrendering their lives to the Lordship of Jesus who died and is risen for you. We trust the process that involves the Holy Spirit molding and transforming us to look more like Jesus until He comes back.
And this journey in advancing the kingdom of God is designed to happen through the vehicle of the local church; this busted, hypocritical, messy community of believers that Jesus considers to be his beautiful bride. We go on
And this process requires us to think outside of ourselves and consider what best unifies His body to begin planting seeds in a lost world. It requires sacrifice. It requires patiently committing to engaging with people and small talking with them to eventually
This process isn’t some theoretical draft theory but one that has been tried and proven true by the Alpha and Omega. Trust it. Commit to it. And rely on the Holy Spirit to give you strength and wisdom in moments of weakness and doubt and in seasons of being the new guy (or girl).