An epidemic of loneliness has been sweeping across America for the last decade. Psychologists, pundits, and commentators have been wringing their hands, trying to sleuth out the roots of our collective isolation. Is it the Internet? Or the pressure of the job market? Maybe it’s Generation X’s posture of ironic detachment? Or is it the politicizing of everything?
The church isn’t immune to this epidemic. Theologian and missions expert Mike Frost reflects on this problem: “I’ve lost count of the number of Christians who’ve told me they either stopped attending church or left their church to join another one because they couldn’t make any friends there. They report that the church people were friendly enough. They were hospitable and welcoming. As one person told me, ‘They’re nice to you, but no one becomes your friend.’ And it hurts when all that friendliness leads only to friendlessness.”
People aren’t looking for a friendly church. They are looking to make friends. They’re look- ing to meet the deep need of human connection. They want to be seen for all their distinctiveness and personality; they want to be accepted and loved, despite their foibles and eccentricities; they yearn to know that they matter to other people.
When people find the friend group where they belong, they consider it a second family. For many, “Friendsgiving” has supplanted the traditional family Thanksgiving as their most im- portant November gathering. TV Sitcoms like “Friends,” “Big Bang Theory,” and “Community” give lighthearted depictions of idealized friend groups that operate as proxy families.
Ultimately, God’s vision for the church is as an extended family. God calls Abraham and makes a covenant with him, promising to bless his descendants and raise up a nation from him. Abraham’s heirs will be the family of God.
Paul tells us that we who trust in Christ are adopted into the family of God; we too are heirs of the covenant with Abraham:
“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 4:26-29)
Christ saves us from our sins. Christ also saves us to a community: the family of God. But living as a family takes work and effort. The Holy Spirit teaches us in the scriptures how to do this work: by honoring one another, sharing with one another, being hospitable to one another, rejoicing with those who rejoice, and mourning with those who mourn (see Romans 12:9-16). The scriptures are chock full of wise teaching on how to move beyond being friendly to move toward living like the family of God.
So, as we study God’s word together, let’s make every effort to let the words shape how we live and how we relate together. Together, let's search the scriptures so that we may grow in living like the Family of God!