Rooted in Community


It has been over two decade since the Search Institute released their framework of “developmental assets,” a set of skills, experiences, relationships, and behaviors that enable young people to develop into successful and contributing adults.  The more of these assets young people acquire, the better their chances of succeeding in school and becoming happy, healthy, and contributing members of their communities.  When it comes to the assets that support strong, thriving, enduring faith, being rooted in community would be close to the top of my list.

The support structure of solid relationships does more to support and encourage growth in faith than any other single factor I can identify.  Students that are surrounded by nurturing and multidimensional relationships have an immense advantage on the road to thriving faith.  That said, in our hyper-connected culture it can be ironically difficult to connect meaningfully to life-giving community.  We tend to opt in for countless shallow digital connections and neglect the kind of face-to-face and heart-to-heart soul supporting friendship that is slow to develop and difficult to maintain.  The early church leaders described such beautiful unity and profound connection that defined the Jesus movement, but it can seem kind of foreign to our experience of casual and superficial relationships.  Peter encouraged one early community of faith with these words: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”  (1 Peter 2:9-10)  I love this: you weren’t always a people, but now you are the people of God.  Not individuals, but a community; a beautiful union of beautiful people being remade in the likeness and image of God.  This reality is something that can anchor your soul.  If you push your roots down into community, you will find true strength.  Here are a few aspects of community that teens seem to struggle with:

  1. Multi Generational Community – This is a complicated issue, but we need to talk about it.  Teenagers often neglect relationships with people above and below them, they know how to relate to people in their “tribe,” but they lack the skills to relate to other generations. There is something missing when your community of faith only includes people from your generation. There is something shallow, something lacking, when you don’t have the diversity of voices from other generations.  Not everyone is in the same place, and not everyone is in the same stage of life. We have segregated our ministry environments into age groups for good reasons, but this has some drawbacks as well.  It provides very little opportunity to do life alongside adults (even older adults) that follow Jesus.  We cannot learn from them, and they cannot learn from us. This is not an easy problem for us to solve, but we need to imagine creative solutions.  We need to find places where people can interact across the generations, enriching our community in meaningful ways.  I want to build a culture where we serve alongside people from different generations.
  1. Multi-Tribal Community –When you are a child, your world is impossibly small.  Children are very self-centered.  They quickly include mom and dad in their tribe, because they really need their parents.  For a long time, your world is pretty small.  Your world consists of you and your family.  Then you go off to school and your world gets a little bigger.  By the time you are a teenager, you might have a firmly established tribe of other teens that are like you.  When you grow and develop, you end up leaning into that tribe to establish your autonomy from your family of origin. Yet when you really mature, your world gets even bigger.  You can move past your self-centered world, even your tribal identity, and begin to embrace a larger chunk of humanity.  This is one of the marks of spiritual maturity: when your community goes beyond your tribe. When Jesus chose his twelve disciples, he intentionally selected people across a diverse spectrum of cultural and political tribes within Judaism.  For example, Simon the Zealot likely hated and resented Levi the tax collector.  There were so many barriers that should have prevented them from connection, but they became united in Christ anyway.  Things that divide tribes in the cafeteria and in the hallways should not divide once you step into the church. This is a family where such things are irrelevant because of Jesus.
  1. Multi-Dimensional Community – the other element that I think is essential to community is multi-dimensionality.  What I mean here is to have people above you, investing in and pouring into you, to have people alongside you supporting and encouraging you, and finally to have people below you that you are investing in and pouring into them.  Having the right people around you makes such a difference.  Learning to relate to others on different levels is one of the hallmarks of maturity.  This is not automatic, it is something you seek out, develop, and a skill you need to learn.
    1. Mentors investing in you – Learning to be invested in, to receive guidance and correction and inspiration from people further along in their spiritual journey is a skill we need.  Everyone wants mentors, but this generation seems to have an unhealthy attitude about what a mentor is supposed to do. Be careful not to allow a sense of “entitlement” to creep into this relationship. Be willing to be the one that does the work. You are the one that wants to learn, you should be the one pursuing the relationship. If you want good mentors, you need to understand that good people are busy people.
    2. Friends alongside you – Learning to lock arms and live alongside others is another essential skill.  We all have friends, but I mean something different than just having any friend. This is someone that gives you strength and helps you be a better version of yourself. It is a friend of the soul.
    3. People you can invest in – Having people that you are actively investing in and intentionally helping can make such a huge difference in your spiritual development. Who are you pouring yourself into? Who is looking up to you? You will grow more through this kind of relationship than any other. When you learn to be a contributor and not just a consumer, you are moving toward a new level of maturity.

Rooted in Love

Rooted-content-1Echo continued our conversation about strengthening the roots of our faith with a reality that Jesus identified as the center of Kingdom ethics – Love.  Strong, enduring, Christ-centered faith must be rooted in Love.  Jesus prayed that love would be the defining characteristic of His new community. Jesus taught that the root of all the commandments is love. Jesus helped us imagine a different sort of humanity, one where selfish and hateful attitudes are replaced with selfless love as we allow the life of Christ to grow within us. He talked about being connected to the Vine, the source of life. As we learn to abide in Him, we have life. Apart from the Vine we can do nothing. This kind of love has very little to do with our culture’s definition of the term.  What if our love was rooted not in our emotions or in our feelings, but in our connection to Jesus? Think about the beauty that would be built in our world if we loved like God loves. Look at what Paul prayed for the community of faith in Ephesus:

Ephesians 3:14-21 – “I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may have power, together will all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Paul prays that the Ephesians would receive specific knowledge – the knowledge of the Love of Christ.  Paul prays that through the Spirit the glorious riches of God’s power will strengthen God’s people in their “inner being.”  Don’t miss this.  This is not a shallow intellectual understanding, like you know this trivial fact or that. Paul prays for the Spirit of God to impart something wonderful deep in the hearts of His people.  This is phrase, the “inner being,” in the Greek language refers to the personal core of each individual.  It is the seat of the will, the center of belief, and the conscience.  Paul is praying that the Holy Spirit would impart truth so deep down in them it would change their instincts and impact the way they see everything.  We use the phrase “change of heart” to describe this kind of internal transformation.  This is about the core, our true selves, and our deepest held beliefs.  Think about the way that you know your name, your family relationships, or the loyalty of your best friend. This is the kind of knowledge Paul has in mind. It is about Jesus coming and dwelling in our hearts through faith.

This transformation, this impartation has us rooted and well founded in love (agape).  Paul’s prayer is that through the Spirit, these people would experience the love of Christ at the core of their being.  Paul is talking here about a power from within – that power comes from the knowing and experiencing the crazy-big Love of Christ! I invite you: get ROOTED in the LOVE of Christ. Let your roots grow down deep into the soil of His Love for you.

This love is inexhaustible.  I love the poetry of Paul’s dimensional description of Christ’s love. When Paul prays that they would understand how wide, long, high and deep the love of Christ is for them, he is inviting them to wonder at the expanse of Christ’s love.  It is wide enough to include every individual of every kind in every age in every world.  There was no limit to the length that Christ would go to reach us with His love, going even to the cross.  In depth, Christ descended to the humility and poverty of the human condition, accepting even death.  In its height, the love of Christ raises us higher than we could ever reach on our own, seating us in Heaven with our Father as His children and heirs.   No one is outside the love of Christ, no place is beyond its reach.  Every time we learn something new about the Love of God, there is yet more to learn.  It is inexhaustible.  We learn this truth, according to Paul, together with all the saints.  It binds us one to another in unity.   Here is something that we need to wrestle with: we enjoy the limitless love of God for us…but we do not always easily accept the limitless and sweeping love for other people.  We struggle with the idea of God making no distinction between “us” and “them.”  We like to think of ourselves as worthy of the love of God, while others maybe not so much.

This love surpasses understanding.  This is a huge point for you to consider.  We sometimes treat the love of God as a simple thing that we can easily understand.  The love of Jesus is the subject of simple nursery songs and slogans. I think teaching children the love of Jesus is a great idea, but I also want people to experience the power and depth and magnitude of God’s love. Paul is talking here about something so vast and expansive that we have yet to wrap our understanding around its measure.  Paul himself talks about struggling to grasp the mystery of God’s Love.  Paul is saying here that comprehending the love of God is a spiritual exercise that can keep them busy for the rest of their lives.  This is a little paradoxical, talking about “knowing what surpasses knowledge.”

This love is unconditional.  We spend so much time looking for affirmation on the outside.  We wonder if we are enough and we ask that question in every relationship and in every moment.  We endure nagging little voices, disgusting voices, lying voices, that tell us we are no good, that we do not matter, that we are not enough.  We are in constant search from the world around us for affirmation that we matter.  We ache in our emptiness, longing for approval and for affirmation.  Paul is describing something completely different here.  Paul describes affirmation and truth that come from within.  They come from the overflow of the love of Christ in our “inner being.”  Jesus fills our hearts with mind-blowing reality-defining truth-amplifying love.  One of the most powerful realities in scripture is the way that God loved us before we met any criteria or performed in some certain way or established the right conditions.  While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  While we were enemies of God in our minds, God reached for us.  There are no conditions that we need to meet to establish this love; God loves us because we are His.  I believe this – if you can get this truth down in your core, so much that tempts you and distracts you will be rendered powerless. You will find the kind of strength that David rested in when he wrote: “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for you are with me.” You will enjoy the confidence of Paul that wrote: “If God is for me than who can be against me?” You will find the unshakable truth that we are more than conquerors and that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.

If you get the love of God into your soul, into your inner being, everything will change.  Everything else will fall into place. If you can get how much God loves you and cares for you and longs to be near you past your doubts, past your fears, past your rationalizations and into your core – if you know deep down in your DNA that God loves you and YOU ARE HIS, if the love of God sinks deep into your core, no lie can affect you.  No suggestion or insinuation can distract you.  No temptation can destroy you.  You will be rooted in the love of God.  Your identity will be secure; your confidence will be unassailable.  This is the core of rock solid faith.  God is FOR you.  God adores you.  The love of Jesus empowers and transforms you.  Love will change you.  Love will transform you.  Love will perfect you.  If you accept it.