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.

Lies that Ruin our Relationships

This week in Echo High School, we are talking about the “Mind Games” we play with friends. Our perspective on others is very easily distorted. Think about how envy, judgment, criticism, and jealousy color our perspectives on other people. What you choose to believe about others has a dramatic impact on your relationships. You can choose to believe the best, give the benefit of the doubt, trust people until they prove your trust is misplaced. Or you can choose to believe the worst, be skeptical and cynical and suspicious of others. Much of our success in relationships comes down to mind games. For example – if you believe that you can and should try to control those people around you, you will always resort to manipulation and coercion to get your way. If you believe that love is something that is only valuable when freely chosen, you will refuse to manipulate and allow other people to retain control of their choices. Or if you believe that someone else in your life winning means that you lose, then it is impossible to be genuinely excited about the success of others. What lies mess us up? I think each of these distorted perspectives are like a ditch on either side of the road. When you go to one extreme or the other, your relationships run into mud. Try to find the balance and watch your relationships improve.

1. It’s all about ME…or it’s all about THEM. We have a harmful tendency to focus on our rights in a relationship instead of our responsibilities. This is true in your relationship with your church, with your friends, and it will be true in your marriage: any time you reverse responsibilities and rights, you will be frustrated and disappointed. A huge mistake, but a very common mistake is to get these two things mixed up. We talk in our culture all about our “rights.” We have the right to be treated nicely and to be fawned over and to be appreciated and recognized. We have been told our whole lives how special we are, and so it is no wonder that we expect everyone to be about the business of satisfying our needs. We have the right to be happy, if everyone would just get with the program of making us happy. It always seems when our needs are being met correctly that everyone else is to blame, and we focus solely on the problems with their character. Here is the truth: as long as you focus on your rights or your needs being met in a relationship, you will be disappointed. This is not how things are designed to work. The truth is you are responsible for your own character and the needs of others. If you can focus on your responsibilities, you will be so much happier because you will only worry about things that are in your control. In any relationship, the only element you have any control over is you. You can control your character, your reactions, and your affections. Too often, we want everyone else to change according to our needs and we come into relationships with this expectation. When we are frustrated because this set of priorities does NOT work, we will try to force it through manipulation. This is when we try to control the people around us. Manipulation uses weapons like guilt and fear to control others. You don’t have any legitimate control over other people. Change yourself – grow. Don’t try to change the people around you. You will only resort to manipulation if you do because you will be frustrated by failure.

2. It’s none of my business…or everything is my business. There is a ditch on either side of this road. Check out Galatians 6:1-5 – bear one another’s burdens, and fulfill the law of Christ. There is so much in this passage. You see that this passage teaches we have a responsibility to our brothers and sisters in Christ to help them out and have their backs. Sometimes we assume that “it’s not my business.” This is really just a thing we say, because we make it our business by judging and gossiping anyway. We have a responsibility for the people we love. It is to protect them, to truly have their backs and look out for them. This passage says our responsibility is to “restore them gently.” This is not talking about criticism or rebuke; but about admonishment. It is a positive thing. The Proverb says “the wounds of a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” That means that the people that tell you what you want to hear don’t care about your nearly as much as the people who are courageous enough to tell you what you need to hear. But this passage also reminds us to check yourself, to examine your own heart and not overdo it with being everyone else’s conscience. This passage is not an invitation for you to go around sticking your nose in everyone else’s business. It reminds us that our character should be our primary concern, even when we are looking to the needs of others. Balance is key. Know when it is your business and when it is not your business. How can you tell? Well, if you can actually help or you are in a position of authority or proximity, it might be your business. This passage is counter-cultural for a lot of reasons, at least it is not how many of us are comfortable in the way we handle relationships. Love wins in environments of open accountability. When we hear people talking about others, often, we remain silent. Either we like hearing the gossip, or we don’t want to get in other’s business. Unity is your business. We become accomplices in the gossip if we don’t shut it down. If you shut your ears, they will shut their mouths. Negativity is dangerous; it is a highly contagious disease that infects the heart.

3. If I ignore it, it will go away or get better…or it is my job to point out everyone else’s issues.
Another lie we believe about relationships is that sources of conflict can be ignored and they will go away. This is not how it works. Hurt does not go away, it grows and festers and becomes ugly like an infected wound. Small offenses can be overlooked, but often the best thing to do is address an issue directly. Face conflict, don’t run from it. Tell the truth. Fight fair. Deal with issues openly, don’t hide it, don’t stuff it, and don’t avoid it. We often hope a problem will just go away if we ignore it. It will not go away; it will just get worse and the longer you wait to talk about the more awkward it will be to have the conversation. The key is to balance truth and love. One without the other makes conflict destructive. Remember that GRACE is the face love wears when it sees imperfection. Choose to show grace to the people around you. Let me caution you here: a critical spirit is seriously dangerous. It seems to be a widespread practice where fault-finding and criticism is the normal way to address others’ imperfection. We tend to view ourselves through a lens of our strengths and successes, and judge others through a lens of weaknesses and mistakes. Friends will let us down and they will disappoint us. Sometimes we will be unhappy with their choices or their behavior. How we decide to react to such a situation is largely determined by how we have chosen to think about people.

Thoughts to ponder:
-Are you modelling healthy relationships for your teen, including healthy conflict resolution? Remember that what we do will always have a greater influence than what you say.
-Discuss with your teenager: how healthy do you think your friendships are? How about our family relationships? What could improve on my part? What could improve on your part?
-Do you struggle more with avoiding potential conflict, or with sticking your nose in other people’s business? Why?