We live in a world filled with fences. The purpose of a fence can be to keep something in or on to keep something out. Let me say that fences can be good. There is a saying that good fences make good neighbors. But, I wonder if this true for the relational fences that we build in our lives that keep people out?
Last week I touched on Jesus’ desire for us to love our local church, meaning the people, not the building. I mentioned last week that I would explore different ways that we love those in our local congregation. The first way we put our love into practice is through community. Jesus’ words in John 13:34-35 challenge us to build relationships with others in our church community. The challenge is the fences that we create. Just like the analogy of the fences in our yard separates the front yard from the back yard. The front yard is the image that we want people to see. We work hard on the front yard to keep it looking good. The limitation of focusing on the front yard relationships is that we never get beyond being superficial. The back yard, on the other hand, represents the real us. It is the place where we can let our hair down and be ourselves.
We are masters at relationship fence building. The problem with these fences is that they prevent us from developing relationships with others. Several years ago my father-in-law, a lifetime missionary, lamented how in recent years they stopped getting invited to people’s homes. Folks from the churches were happy to take them to a restaurant but not to invite them into their home. Most of us know from experiences that a get together at restaurants and even coffee shops have a tendency to be superficial. There are often too many distractions to keep us from talking about deeper stuff. There is also a time limit to how long we can hang out. Our homes on the other hand, our back yards, are almost always the exact opposite. Yes, we are more vulnerable, but it also leads to deeper relationships.
One of the aspects I love about our church is that our people really enjoy each other. Using a rented facility we often have to shoo people out the door so that the janitor can lock up the school. I love that our people don’t just come and then go. Those that just slip in and slip out miss out on cultivating meaningful relationships. The same thing happens with those that get involved in ministry. People often feel sorry for me when I share that we setup and tear down each Sunday for church. Now it is a big deal when you think that everything, and I mean everything, needed for the service is hauled in and setup and when the service is over it is put away and hauled off. Yet one of the blessings we have realized is that this time is a relationship building time for those involved. Most of our people would acknowledge that some of the people they are closest with in the church are those they serve alongside! This life upon life community is also built through small group Bible studies, mission trips, church retreats and events and even our annual community soccer camp.
What I want us to grasp is that if we truly love our church we are going to be involved in aspects that help us to build relationships with others. The challenge is we need to let people into our back yard and we have to be willing to spend time in their back yard. The change in you and the church are transformational!
-Pastor Joe Parkinson