From the ages of 4-12, I grew up in a small, missional church plant called Heartlife in Sachse, Texas. The name was very 1990s, as we were all very 1990s at the time. The church started in my house, led by my dad, moved to a storefront and later into a “real” church building. To be honest, when I think of those years at Heartlife I think of the time we were in the storefront. The unconventional building, baptistry, and children’s area. Across the street from a gas station. The building even had an old drive thru window. We didn’t have a playground, so after church we either played in the parking lot or across the street in the empty field behind the dumpster. I tear up thinking about how precious those years were. We had real community. My family had real relationships with people and my parents were doing real and genuine ministry.
Unfortunately, Heartlife doesn’t exist today. After my dad was called to another church, the community went on another couple of years and then dwindled out. It was devastating to hear the church had died, but later I realized some things are just meant for a season. It didn’t mean those lives impacted for Christ went away, they were still impacted for eternity.
I think it was about ten years later, we had a reunion. People gathered together from all over and all different times in Heartlife’s existence to see each other, to laugh and to catch up. It’s the only family reunion I’ve ever been to. They were my family, my church family, my community. They helped raise me. They disciplined me. They cried with me. They rejoiced with me. They hurt my feelings. They disappointed me and I disappointed them. They encouraged me.
I can look back on those years so fondly, despite the hurts, drama, and messed up human stuff, because that’s what the church was designed for. Acts 2:42-47 says,
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
Now this passage doesn’t go into the early church drama (though we know there was some), but it’s the beauty of community done right. However, community cannot happen without vulnerability. Here’s the deal with vulnerability…it’s messy. It’s feelings and hurts and emotions and sharing. I believe you can’t have TRUE community without it. If you are wondering why you haven’t connected with people, but you keep sneaking into church late and leaving as soon as the pastor says “Amen”, you might be afraid to get vulnerable. To get real. The phrase, “I’m just not connecting with anyone”, is a bunch of bologna. I can say that, because I’ve been there. YOU have to try. YOU have to get vulnerable. YOU have to open yourself up with the expectation that you could get hurt, because you probably will. But it’s well worth it.
The best kind of community pushes through the hurts, it keeps loving and growing and caring. It does exist. It really does, but it’s not perfect and that’s because we aren’t perfect. That bit in Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” is true for everyone. We’re a hot mess, so our community is going to be one big beautiful, hot mess.
My little family has a community right now that is a beautiful, hot mess. They aren’t perfect and we don’t expect them to be. I am proud to give my girls the opportunity to grow up in our out-of-the box church with an imperfect community of believers. We love them, they love us and we love and worship God together. They’ve helped us move, they brought us meals, and they love our girls like their own. We get mad at them and they get mad at us, but we know that’s part of it all.
Community is family, and I have pretty distinct memories of fighting with my little brother. I mean knock down, drag out fights. I actually threw scissors at him once and he beat me with plastic swords. Yet, he’s still my little brother and I love him fiercely despite it all. We should love each other fiercely despite it all. Despite the social media snafus, the dinners we didn’t get asked to, the friend groups we feel left out of. Let’s keep loving and laughing because life is hard and we desperately need community. It’s how we were designed. Why else would Jesus be hanging out with twelve stinky fisherman? It was His community. So, go out and find your fisherman, go find your early church, your Heartlife, and love them well…despite it all.
Thanks for letting me share,