My newest book, Closer Than a Sister, is about community and friendship. But not just any community or friendship. It’s about the relationship between women in the church.
I don’t know about you, but I need community. I need people I can turn to when life is hard, when I don’t know what to do, when I need a helping hand. I need people I can be real with, who accept me as I am, but who also know God won’t leave me as I am. I need people who share the same love for Jesus, who view the world and all our problems through the lens of Scripture, and who point me forward to my hope in eternity. I need people who will worship alongside me both in tears and in laughter.
I need my sisters in Christ.
Searching for Community
My journey to finding such community has been a long one and one that continues to this day.
My husband and I met at Covenant College over twenty years ago. The culture there was community centered. It was a small college so we all knew each other, or at least recognized each other as fellow students. We knew the professors well, and they knew us. Sometimes we even met for class in their homes. The RA’s on each hall in the dormitory often led hall devotions. We shared with our hallmates and roommates whatever we had, just like a family would do. We even had a day of prayer each semester where classes were cancelled and we gathered together as a community to pray.
In this environment, I learned and grew in my understanding of community and of our connectedness to one another as believers. I participated in my first accountability/prayer group there with two other girls. Many of the friends I made in college are still my closest friends today.
After I graduated and got married, we moved away from that tight-knit community. As we settled into our new town, new home, and new jobs, we also found a new church and expected to find the same kind of community we had in college. We didn’t. Sure, everyone was warm and kind and friendly. But it was hard to engage people at the level of honesty we were used to. At first we were discouraged. I missed my friends and my community. I despaired of ever finding a community where I could truly know others and also be known by my community.
Slowly, my husband and I came to realize that while our college had a ready-made community available for us, now that we were on our own, we would have to work to cultivate it ourselves.
Lessons in Community
My book, Closer than a Sister, is about my search for community and the lessons I learned along the way.
God creates community. Through faith in what Christ has done for us at the cross, we are adopted into the family of God. We don’t pick our friends; God chooses our brothers and sisters. We are united to one another through the blood of Christ and our friendship with each other is eternal.
Community is more than having someone to hang out with. For the believer, community is doing spiritual life together with our brothers and sisters.
Community requires a certain level of vulnerability, an honesty and realness about our common need for grace.
Community is hard sometimes. We hurt one another. We draw lines in the sand and take sides. We forget we are united to one another and think we can do life on our own.
Real life, face-to-face community is different than what we find on social media. There is no substitute for the Body of Christ found in our local church.
Christian community may involve fun activities and events, but those are merely means to the real essence of community.
In Christian community, believers serve one another, mourn together, rejoice with one another, disciple one another, use their gifts together, and exhort one another.
The Work of Community
In my journey to find community, there was a lot of work to do. Though God had placed us in a church, we had to cultivate friendships. The community was there, we just had to nurture it.
We started doing little things. Whenever a new family came to the church, we introduced ourselves and invited them to lunch. Before long, we got to know newlyweds, Josh and Misha, who ended up spending lots of time in our home, helping us renovate it (as did half the church!). Eventually, our firstborn sons would become the best of friends. We also got to know Rebekah and Derek. When we shared with them about our marriage struggles, they immediately insisted on watching our baby so we could go out on a date once a week. We also hosted regular meals, small groups, studies, and other church events at our house. I hosted play dates with other moms. In all these events, we asked questions and showed an interest in other’s lives.
At one point, my pastor encouraged me to start a discipleship group with other young moms. I invited a new mom to our church, Marilyn, who like me, had a husband who often worked late. We helped and supported one another during that terrible time of day when all young children seem to go crazy. Before long, Lisa joined our group, who had the same desire for community as I did. Then Cara joined us, followed by Kerri. We read books together and discussed them. We memorized Scripture together. We prayed for one another. They walked with me through loss and sorrow, fears and worries, difficult decisions, and big changes. They also rejoiced with me in dreams come true. We grew in our love and knowledge of God together. We prayed for and challenged one another to look to Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.
Don’t get me wrong, cultivating community was never easy. It took a lot of work and intention. Over the years, we faced many obstacles to community: church division and conflict, people leaving the church or moving away, and sometimes even resistance to community. There were times when it would have been easy to give up. To return to surface level relationships, painted on smiles, and “Hello. How are you?” interactions each Sunday. But Christ died for the church; he created this grace-needy community through his blood. It’s worth the investment, no matter how hard it is.
If you are longing for community, for people to share spiritual life with, consider reading my new book, Closer Than a Sister. It looks at the New Testament church and what Scripture tells us community and friendship looks like, specifically focusing on the relationship between women in the church.
Because we are family, children of our Father, and that makes us closer than a sister.
Christina received her undergraduate degree from Covenant College and her Master’s Degree in Counseling from Palm Beach Atlantic University. She writes for a number of Christian ministries and publications including Revive Our Hearts, Desiring God, Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and Ligonier Ministries. She is the content editor for enCourage and the author of A Heart Set Free: A Journey to Hope Through the Psalms of Lament and Closer Than a Sister: How Union with Christ Helps Friendships to Flourish. Christina also serves on the advisory board at Covenant College. She prefers her coffee black and from a French press, enjoys antiquing, hiking, traveling, and reading. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and two boys. You can find her at www.christinafox.com, @christinarfox and on Facebook.