Last night was our community group’s final meeting of the semester, and I ugly-cried my way out the door as soon as it ended. That was our last time to officially meet with this group before our family relocates to Dallas. As our leader Chris prayed at the close, I just looked around at the faces in that room, their heads bowed in prayer but my eyes wide open in thanksgiving for each person, and I knew there was no way I’d be able to stop the tears.

I’m still crying even now as I attempt to put words around my deep affection for these people. My people.

It hurts to leave them. So much life has happened alongside these families, and I truly cannot picture life in a different place, without them right there.

Looking back is a necessary part of moving forward, so I’m soaking up the memories and settling into praise for this gift God gave us. And reflecting on this sweet gift I don’t want to let go of, my heart swells with all of these things I want to tell people about the value of a community like this.

Because you cannot wait around for this to happen to you. It doesn’t work that way. Community doesn’t come by handouts; you work for it.

If you want community, you’ll need to build it.

I’ll tell you the truth: Community is costly, and if you want it, you’ll have to risk going first.

You’ll have to give first without knowing what will be returned.

You’ll be called to share your heart first not knowing if anyone else will join you in vulnerability. That won’t always feel safe.

You’ll go first to serve. It can’t be about what you get out of it. No, if you want the BEST kind of community with God’s people, you’re going to need to approach it with a mindset that first asks how God can use your gifts to minister there.

You’ll need to plan for it first. If you try to fit it around other things on your calendar, trust me – it will never happen. To build this kind of community, you’ll have to plan the rest of your activities around it. Commitment is one of the most essential ingredients.

building community

I want to be clear: life at this level with these people is one of my biggest treasures but not something that’s just come easy for me. There has been struggle and heartache. At times I’ve longed for more with people and wondered if the depth would ever come. I’ve had to wait. I’ve gotten tired of it. I’ve almost quit. I want you to know that about me. Healthy, life-giving community is so important to me, but I’ve nearly quit. So. many. times.

And maybe some of you feel that way right now. Like this aspect of life in Christ is just not working out for you. And I would agree with you that it’s very hard.

But I also need to tell you that the end result is so worth it. It will never be perfect, but it will still be beautiful. And it may not look like my experience, or anyone else’s, but what God has for you on the other side of consistently going first – of showing up with your people, for your people, week after week, month after month, year after year – is a prize you want. 

You were made for it. Your soul craves it maybe more than you realize. You want these relationships – these histories with people – that physically hurt to leave if God moves you on.

I look back at the beautiful relationships that bloomed out of community group this past decade – at the friends who have been with us almost that entire time and also at the precious newer relationships – and I’m overcome with gratitude. But I haven’t forgotten the seasons of struggle.

This community you build – the beautiful deep kind – will be hard-fought. You can count on challenges, and you’ll have to press through. I’ve learned it’s one thing to say we want people to be authentic and vulnerable about their needs, but actually walking with them in their mess is a whole lot harder. It’s not at all fun getting that close to people’s sin. But you’ll have to meet them in dark places if you want to love them into the light. And the humility it takes to allow others to join you in yours? Even more painful. And miraculous. But with a reward you don’t want to miss.

Every part of my heart is crying this out right now – it is worth it. When community happens the way it should, it’s a gift, but it’s one you have a part in building. Please don’t waste time waiting to cultivate it someday; it’s worth starting now, and it’s a work worth staying in.

Let’s get this straight. There will be awkward moments along the way. Groups aren’t always grown in the most natural ways, and throwing together so many diverse personalities into a group can get….well, it can get weird. Every group has that person that’s strange and hard to relate to. (Yours doesn’t? Well. You know what they say about that? If you think your group doesn’t have a weirdo, then you’re it. Hate to break it to ya. Kidding. Kind of.)

Push through the awkward, and continuing being the church even when, especially when, it feels that way. The worst I’ve seen happen is that you never really click with a person’s personality but God teaches you patience with people and trains you to love those who are different than you. (Perhaps also providing you with some really funny stories you’ll still be laughing at years later!) And the best? You may be surprised at how this person ends up blessing you with gifts you didn’t see at first, how God might take what’s uncomfortable now and later draw out a depth of relationship you never expected.

But it will test you in heavier ways too. There’s an enemy out to steal this from us. It’s tempting to hand it over to him before we ever see the fruit of our attempts to love people well. It’s hard. I get that. Even these past few weeks, I’ve been weary thinking about starting over in a new place, resisting the amount of work I know it takes to build community. Building means inviting others in, and repetitive inviting requires effort I’m not certain I have the energy for right now. The thought of “dating” couples to find our people? UGH!!! (Haven’t we already done our time??) To be completely honest, I feel overwhelmed at the thought of beginning again.

Yet my heart is so full thinking about how good God has been to us through the years in Tyler –

No, community didn’t feel great all the time,

the risk of going first hasn’t always paid off the way we hoped,

and the way challenging relationships bring to light our own sin is painful and tiring.

But in the end, the fruit harvested over years of planting has made the cultivating worth it. We’re leaving Tyler having had people to walk through life with – sharing each other’s joys and supporting each other in sorrows – and the heart connections with them will not end. As hard as it is to start and stay building community, it’s an investment I can’t help but choose again.

psalm126