Living Life Together at the Core

  • Jeff Crotts
Graphic of the different sections of Earth

One of the ways to measure how healthy a church is is to diagnose the level of transparency fostered amongst the people. For any church, becoming a transparent community can be a challenge no matter where it is in the country, but especially for a Body here in Alaska, becoming open can be a difficult ask. Alaska is known as a transient population which makes it harder to “break the ice” (…pun intended) in terms of building relationships.

So how should we respond to a classically more stoic environment? Should we just give up? God’s Word tells us an emphatic, “No!” by defining fellowship [koinonia] as a crucial foundation stone for how Christians engage each other and their overall mission. Fellowship moves in both vertical and horizontal directions. Vertically with the Lord, and horizontally with other believers. Both upward and outward by the power of the Holy Spirit. Instead of going into a classic Bible study to further unpack and describe this topic (see Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic, Life Together), I wanted to write something practical, answering how you can raise the spiritual temperature in terms of church-life, as you engage others. By way of analogy, imagine fellowship in terms of the layers of the earth, moving from the outside surface to its core. So, in terms of making a connection with other believers, we are going to bore down from the crust down into the mantle to the inner core.

Now, that you have this image in your mind let’s analyze the idea of engaging in this first layer of the crust. I want to define this level as opening yourself up, to care for others around you. Think in terms of a meet and greet time, during, in between, and/or after church services. This is taking on an attitude where you are willing to say hello to a visitor, likely someone you have never met before. This will include making eye contact, smiling, and extending your hand to make a connection. The surface level is a necessary part of church life. We should not underestimate the power of someone extending a welcome and the power of someone feeling welcomed.  

The next layer moves us to the mantle which is underneath the crust, and this takes things deeper, moving past making an introduction, to share. There is a fine line between making pleasantries and moving in to ask a question about someone’s life. Though intimidating, taking this measure is really the simple discipline of searching for common ground between yourself and someone else. I suggest this kind of connection is best made in a slightly less formal setting where you can strike up a brief conversation. Think of being in Sunday school where you have some inbuilt filler space, where it is more awkward to stay silent than to speak. We purposely design our Fellowship Groups (what we call our Adult Sunday school) to have enough time for there to be teaching, prayer, maybe singing and certainly talking. I encourage you to intentionally attend one of these, so you will put yourself in the middle of a setting that encourages this kind of engagement.

As we move through the earth’s mantle, we hit the outside of the earth’s core, which for our sake represents the stage, to bear. This is where we begin to go to a deeper level of connection where you are literally going to rely on someone for spiritual wisdom and encouragement. This new relationship now finds its basis in real trust, where you willingly tell each other personal information from your life, to build a bridge of mutual support. The Bible says in Galatians 6:2, Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.

You might find yourself asking someone to enter a crisis that you are currently undergoing. An example of this might be, asking for prayer for a family member who is rejecting Christ or has the real potential to walk away from the Lord. Or you might seek counsel on how to approach someone in your family who has a sin issue they need to repent of. Often, there are health issues you would not normally tell someone but, in this case, you open up to find support. These kinds of one-on-one conversations happen best in private settings. This could be in the context of a home Bible study or even over a cup of coffee. Emotions run more freely when you talk from your heart about your struggles and private settings lend to this. Tears from pain or from joy are experienced there, especially when you feel the load of your burden lifted within the context of a new Christian friendship.

This outer core finally runs right into the inner core, and this is where we can, live life together. Life together is the goal of true fellowship. You not only risk sharing your insider information in terms of a “one-off” conversation but progress into a relationship defined by ongoing dependence on each other. Now a rhythmic connection has formed, riding the ups and downs of life together as life events unfold. This is the difference between just seeing people here and there to catch up and working through issues by solving them together out loud. You not only share and bear someone’s burden, but you live through it with them. This commitment level is like joining a ship’s crew, where you are onboard to navigate through a life-threatening storm, willing to see it through to the other side, hoping to one day arrive inside a safe harbor. It is difficult to fully capture how this kind of relationship transcends other ones when you have never experienced something like this before, but I can assure you that you’ll know it when you have it. Support felt on the deepest level. I have had a few friendships like these, and they seem to happen by divine appointment. They are safe, transparent, and a very important means of survival through all that life can throw at you.

Are you nearing the crust, somewhere in the middle of the mantle or deep in the core? No matter where you are on this journey you can ask the Lord to help you to go deeper, praying for the courage to risk taking a Christian relationship deeper. This is perhaps a blueprint you can follow to learn how to better care, share, and bear, with others. Living life together at the core.