There was a joke doing the rounds on social media a few weeks ago: "Why does no one talk about the miracle of Jesus having 12 close friends in his 30s?" Jo Frost, director of communications at the Evangelical Alliance, asks, how do we build community?
We live in a fast-paced, rapidly changing, hyperconnected world, yet loneliness is becoming a national epidemic. I visited a church last week where the practice was to share grace by hugging every person gathered there that day. As I was greeted by dozens of smiling, gracious people, I wondered, for how many people in the room was this their only source of human contact that week?
We have all been created for relationship. The desire to belong and the need to be accepted and welcomed are innate in all of us. But, as well as needing to feel like we belong, we each have the power to build community and make others feel like an accepted part of something bigger than themselves.
Jesus modelled offering such acceptance to others in His ministry. He accepted Zacchaeus, the social pariah by inviting Himself round for dinner (Luke 19). He accepted Mary's lavish act of worship, by honouring her and her actions in the presence of the rich and powerful (Luke 7). He accepted a criminal alongside whom He was executed, by welcoming him into heaven as he hung from a cross (Luke 23).
How can we be people who welcome and accept others?
- Share a meal with someone. Sit at a table in your home, in theirs, or somewhere else, and break bread and get to know them. There is something deeply profound about eating food with others; it helps us to foster relationships that are based on the things that unite us. Food can be a power precursor to the sense of belonging.
- Think about how can you invite someone into your life. Can they help you walk the dog? Might they be able to join you when you collect your children from school? Will they sit with you on the couch as you fold laundry? Offering someone a sense of belonging doesn't mean you have to find more time to dedicate to them; it can simply mean opening up and sharing with someone the things you already spend your time doing.
- Celebrate the unique in others. Consider how people demonstrate the image of God, and find ways to encourage, affirm and pray for the beautiful you can see in them. Be an encourager who speaks over other people's lives with words seasoned with grace, and watch them blossom.