What is Your Community Lense?

Years ago, shortly after my baptism at my home church, I received an email from a woman inviting my husband and me to a Bible Fellowship class (also known as Sunday School, small groups, or community groups to some of you). At that point, we had been at the church for a year and a half and had never attended one of the small groups known as Bible Fellowship at our church. I was eager to get more connected, so I said, “Yes!” and we showed up the following week. At the time, the class met before the larger worship service. We were welcomed into the class and took our seats. They were a friendly and welcoming bunch, but after just a few short minutes in the class, you could tell they had been in community together for a long while. It turns out, they had been in community with one another for close to ten years. We left the class and went to the larger worship gathering and went home.

The following week I just assumed we’d attend the class again. My husband wasn’t as keen on the idea, but I think he was trying to appease me and get out of it all at the same time. I got our younger two children settled into their Bible Fellowship classes, and my husband said he would join me in class once he got our oldest child settled into his class.

I sat in class chatting with the class members as I waited for my husband to join me. I waited for the entire class for him to join me, but he never did. When I finally found him afterwards, he said he just didn’t feel comfortable and didn’t ever want to go back to the class. So, go back we never did.

It was mostly our own baggage. Coming from broken homes, both of us knew what it felt like to be forced into a new family situation who welcomed us because they had to not necessarily because they wanted to. We had some growing and trusting to do for sure. It wasn’t all on them or the way they reacted. A lot of our hesitation had to do with our own issues. I know we are not alone because I’ve spoken to many people over the past few years who feel the same way about new situations and groups. Please don’t give up! And for those of you in leadership, recognize that not everyone fits into a nice, neat box. Sometimes you quite literally must think outside the box.
I knew my children still needed to attend Bible Fellowship, so I made sure they went to their classes every week, but I could never figure out what to do with myself while they were in class. So, I ended up teaching and leading in my youngest child’s class, and there I remained for a year and a half. My husband, on the other hand, stayed downstairs in the atrium every week during this hour. As with many things in life, as it was happening, it certainly wasn’t a part of my plan for that period in my life—I wanted to be in adult community with my husband and certainly didn’t feel especially called to children’s ministry, but God was at work.

You see, as my husband sat in the atrium week after week, the pastors of our church would move throughout the atrium. They, or he, would initiate conversation. Week after week, he would come to know these pastors more and more. While God was not growing our community together, He was still, in fact, growing our community in His own special way.

About fifteen months after my husband left me sitting alone in that Bible Fellowship class, the education pastor at our church asked him if he would be interested in starting a new Bible Fellowship class at the church. Admittedly, when my husband came home that night and told me about the conversation that took place, I laughed. My laugh was mixed with a little anger, hurt, curiousness, and pride. Really, God? How could he be asked to be the Director of a Bible Fellowship class when he had never even been a part of one? I mean, I had the seminary degree with an emphasis on small group ministry. Was God playing some sort of joke? Was the education pastor losing his mind and his discernment? These thoughts swirled around in my head. All of them. However, as quickly as I laughed, Abraham and Sarah came to mind as they both laughed at the mention of them bearing a son together in their old age (Genesis 17–18). While not as major as birthing a nation, the task that had been asked of my husband would prove to be an essential part of birthing a new thing in his heart and growing his walk with the Lord.

The transition from leading a group of preschoolers to assisting my husband in his new leadership position was a little bumpy. Mostly because I was still a little agitated. As much as God was working in and through my husband, He was also doing a major work within my own heart. My husband’s building methods were also a little—okay, a lot—different than most and quite unorthodox. However, his intentions and his heart were in the right place…and God was certainly stretching him and using him.

My husband didn’t crave the community I craved. He was content with our insular community. He didn’t desire to do life with others because others had often made his life messy. However, getting into the mess of life with others proved to be the way in which God would grow him and reveal more gifts in him and to him.

It’s funny how often the things we crave the most turn out to not be the things that fulfill us and the things that we run from the most often are the things we need the most. As my husband and I have spent the last four and a half years leading this class (he has since moved from Director of the class to the teacher, and I have moved into the Director position), so much has changed. I’ve watched as God revealed and fulfilled promises He made to me. I’ve watched my husband be a part of a community. I’ve watched as my husband pours countless hours into studying the Word of God so that he can teach it in the most accurate way possible. I’ve watched how my husband has prayed by hospital beds, officiated marriage ceremonies, reveal tender parts of his testimony, and from time-to-time shed tears. I’ve also gotten to witness my children using their gifts to serve alongside us. 

I'd love to say that we work in perfect harmony together, but we don’t. We often laugh that my husband only nominated me to take over his Director role because he might not work well with others, but it’s been a way in which God has grown the both of us individually and as a couple. Community was at the foundation of all of it. God created us to pursue Him and to be in a relationship with Him. That is the solid foundation of community. However, He said not to solely love Him, but to also love others.

Community = Loving God and loving others.

Community isn’t about just what others can do for us but is mostly about what we can do for others. If you enter into community with a “me” mindset, you might just end up sitting alone just as I did that Saturday night years ago. At the time, my husband wasn’t looking at that group of people as what he could do for them. Instead, he was looking at it from his jaded perspective. Years later, our mindset has changed. Our community lense isn’t about what we get out of it, but about how we can help others find community, feel welcomed, and welcome others.

What about you? Are you involved in small group community with people who love the Lord and love others? Or, are you running from community because of past pain or possibly conviction? Might I challenge you to find community this year because you never know what God is working on in the background? He has a plan, and His plans are always for your good and His glory.

Our Bible Fellowship class verse:

"Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near." (Hebrews 10:24-25, NLT)

Erin Olson

Founder and CEO of Sandalfeet Ministries

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