From North Carolina to Tennessee to Texas…not only was this a progression west, but these moves took us farther from home as we knew it and farther from some of our closest friends and family. Change is hard and, in the absence of a community, it is challenging to say the least. With our moves, we have had a lot of practice in building community. Here are five lessons we’ve learned on our journey so far:
Being in close proximity to people isn’t necessarily community. We started our marriage in Tennessee with instant “community.” The occupation we shared our first year of marriage had us traveling around full time with other married couples in ministry. We had a home, but found it hard to have a home church because of our travel schedule, so these relationships were it. After a year, the Lord asked us to step away from that ministry.
We need real community. We immediately found a home church and began attending a life group. Over the course of seven years, this group became family. We lived ups and downs with people, we rejoiced and we cried, we shared struggles and talked people through their own, we cared for each other’s children, and we studied God’s word together. This was the first time in our married lives that we both had people pour into our lives.
Lack of community can lead you either to a closer relationship or a breakdown of relationship with the Lord. Choose the former. You can imagine how hard it was to move again once we had built this group of friends. But there we were, packing up, loading our truck and traveling the 650 miles farther west to our new home. We geared up for the search for friends and a new church, praying the whole time that God would be in front of us in Texas. There were many moments of loneliness, but because of our previous community we leaned into the Lord.
Community doesn’t just happen when waiting on others to build it. We hit the ground running in our search for a church. We needed to hear God’s word around other believers. We needed to plug in. Within eight weeks of moving, we found a church and had connected with leadership to become a part of a community group. As easy as that sounds, it entailed meeting lots of people, having lots of the same conversations, saying no to a great church that just wasn’t for us, and pursuing the church to which God was leading us.
You have to do the work. Fast-forward a year and a half; we are re-learning how to be intentional. We are seeing it’s not enough to join a community group or attend a church and expect relationships to happen naturally. Getting to know people takes work, and when you desire authentic, deeper-than-surface-talk relationships, it really takes work. Obviously, we are not experts, but we have learned first-hand from Godly couples that pursued us with the love of Christ. Couples that lived out Jesus’ charge to “do to others what you would have them do to you.” (Matthew 7:12, NIV)
Christ was intentional. He was intentional to stop for water at a specific well to meet a woman. He was intentional to look up into a tree to ask Zacchaeus to hang out. Christ was intentional with his disciples as he broke bread, spoke of hard things and encouraged their faith.
So, what does building community look like for us? It has meant inviting couples over for dinner before community group, meeting at the park, watching others’ children, being intentional to call or text, asking how we can pray, actually praying, etc.—all with the mindset of getting to know them. We have learned that we can’t wait on others to engage us, and we need to step up even if they don’t always reciprocate. We have learned that we are not always going to be best friends with everyone we try to get to know.
We have learned that building community can’t be done with an egocentric mentality.
Do you struggle with building community in a new town or in the one you’ve always lived in? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Photo credit: Kris Krug