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I’ve been in a lot of small groups over the years. Many lasted only a year or two, often with people coming and going as life circumstances changed. Some helped me through challenging seasons, like the group of women who met weekly when all of us had teenage children. A few groups have withstood the test of time, outlasting changes in jobs, marital status and even, with the help of technology, distance.

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One example is the life group my husband and I have been in for over 20 years. While our numbers have ebbed and flowed, the core group has remained. We’ve celebrated plenty of milestones together—graduations, weddings and grandchildren’s births—but we’ve also supported each other through everything from divorce to deaths of family members, from physical and mental health crises to decisions made by our children that brought us to our knees. Christian community means doing life together, even when life gets messy.

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If it’s going to be authentic, Christian community must be nurtured. Here are a few elements I’ve found necessary for it to thrive:

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1.  Plan for the long haul.  It takes time to develop relationships, but the more you get to know one another, the deeper you can go. When my husband and I first joined our life group, we thought it was for a short-term study our church was encouraging everyone to take part in. Little did we know that these strangers would become like family, with whom we would share the ups and downs of life for decades.

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2.  Create a safe space.  Just as we have received “grace upon grace” (John 1:16 ESV), we must show grace toward each other (2 Cor. 4:15). And from the outset, make sure everyone knows that confidentiality is a requirement.

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3.  Be real.  It may take a while for everyone to feel safe enough to be vulnerable, but being honest about your own faults and failings helps to create authentic community.

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Our group is not perfect. As flawed human beings, occasionally we’ve experienced hurt feelings and broken relationships. We try not to let wounds fester, though; we are called to reconciliation, just as Christ has reconciled us to Himself (2 Cor. 5:18).

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When the COVID-19 pandemic began, our group paused our meetings for a few months, thinking it would be a short respite before our lives got back to normal. Once we realized that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon—and after getting the hang of Zoom technology—we began meeting virtually. One perk, we soon learned, was welcoming back to the group a couple of people who had moved out of state. It felt like a homecoming.

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The Christian life isn’t meant to be solitary; God made us relational. If you’re seeking authentic Christian community, look for small groups within your church, or start your own with a few close friends. Just Between Us (JBU) wants to walk alongside you as you do life together. Check out these resources to help you cultivate community.

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~ Marilyn Pritchard

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