I don’t often find myself wishing for a man, which is quite a confessional way to start this article, but there you have it. Yet this week, I moved house, and 7 of them came to help, or more precisely 4 men, 2 teenagers and a tween. None of these men are related to me, and none were known to me just 3 years ago. And yet they made me misty-eyed as we drove in a convoy of trailers down the main street connecting old house with new. This is church family, sweating and schlepping my furniture at 8am on a public holiday Monday. Of that I am sure.
None of these men are related to me, and none were known to me just 3 years ago. And yet they made me misty-eyed as we drove in a convoy of trailers down the main street connecting old house with new.
Much ink has been spilled on how we can support, include and encourage single people in our churches. I’m always wary of solutions which involve corralling us all in an organised fashion, united by the absence of a ring and an excess of free time, apparently. I have never felt more single, than in such a setting.
The Honour of Listening
Last year when one mens’ Bible study group did a few studies on singleness, I got approached a number of times. “What do you think we do well, as a church?” they asked. “What could we do better?” Their freedom to ask those questions, and ask them of me, was an extraordinary gift. There are few things that honour someone like listening to them, or asking what life is like, for them.
I understand that in many ways, I was a “safe” choice. I’m employed by the church, so I probably won’t bite anyone’s head off over morning tea, right? But thinking about the topic as “delicate” works against us. We need more questions like this, more risks taken in search of understanding, not less.
So, as I drove at the back of a line of cars winding their way to my new place, I got to thinking. Does every single person in our church have this kind of support? And if not, why not? As I thought about everyone who helped me move, I realised something. These people are my church family, yes, but they are also my friends.
In the past 24 months, we’ve taught kids’ church together, set up for Friday afternoon kids’ club, constructed giant props for our holiday program. We’ve shared a Passover dinner, and umpteen family dinners, we’ve been to carols events and played board games and chatted about frogs after church. Every single brother and sister who helped me move, is part of my community, and I theirs. They weren’t a generic moving crew—they were my people.
As I thought about everyone who helped me move, I realised something. These people are my church family, yes, but they are also my friends.
When we talk about church family, we mean something that is true whether or not we feel it. We mean the unity that is a reality because of Jesus’ death. I’ve written about this before, but permit me to recap. Ephesians 2 speaks of Gentiles who were far away from God, being been brought near by Christ’s blood (verse 13). It speaks of those who were foreigners and strangers becoming fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household (verse 19). 1 Corinthians 12 uses the metaphor of a body, made up of different parts, to describe the fellowship we have as believers. It’s an intimate and risky bond, born out of baptism into Christ, and it can take our whole lives to comprehend. As we look around us on a Sunday, it can be easier to think of each other as strangers and foreigners still, rather than being filled with familial warmth. This means we need to work, hard, at being family. We don’t choose our family, which means we’re stuck with what we get, and they are stuck with us. But instead of hearing that as a negative, can you grasp the security?
These people, who it is so easy to keep at arms length, are going to share eternity with you. These people are worth more than polite smiles over arrowroot biscuits, and small talk that smooths over the rough edges of your week. It is hard to be vulnerable, but I’m convinced it is far harder to keep yourself in remove, polite and compartmentalised and stifled of connection.
Doing Life Together
Maybe if I wasn’t on staff at church, that assorted crew of people wouldn’t have shown up to help me move. But I think that’s because, if I wasn’t on staff, I might not have gotten to know them over the past 2 years. I might have wondered what I could have in common with a father of 4, or a teenage boy, or a retired school teacher. As it is, I am grateful for every risk taken, every instance of serving alongside, every conversation where we sought common ground, every bit of rattling round together which led to deepening relationship. Not because it resulted in some heavy lifting when I needed it, but because it gave me friends to do life with, and carry all kinds of burdens.
I do not feel single when I am surrounded by church family. That isn’t a party line, or a nice soundbite, it’s the truth. Can I encourage you—especially if you feel weary and worn. The hard work of getting to know your family members is worth it. We are quite literally made to live in these mixed and motley communities. In God’s extravagant kindness, he is still building his family today, and it’s worth everything to belong.