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Sometimes I get into that conversation with people where they grumble about being involved in church, and don’t see why gathering together as Christians is important. Or they trot out that old chestnut – “My faith is private. I don’t need to go to a building and be told what to think by some guy in a dress.”

A little like an ogre who wants to be left alone.

(Am I saying Christians are like Donkey? Hm. Let’s not stretch that analogy too far.)

Church is way more than just going to a building and being talked at (and our pastors don’t wear dresses…at least not in the service that I go to!). Being part of a community of people who love and serve one another is amazing, when it works. And the only way we have the desire to serve one another (instead of seeing church as another facet of our culture that we can consume, that is there to serve me) is because the Holy Spirit gives us that desire. If we walk in step with him, we start to want what he wants (Galatians 5:16-26).

I was listening to Mark Driscoll speak on Acts this morning on the way to work. Acts is a great picture of the early church, and how gathering together was so important for growing in the faith. I was reminded of the truth that we need to gather together in church, in small groups, as Christian friends, not just for our own edification, but mainly for the other people. We encourage one another, lift each other up when we’re down, keep speaking the truth to one another – and it’s important to do the relational groundwork before you get into crisis mode.

Oh I’ll just quote what Driscoll said, because he put it so well.

Peter and John get out of prison. They run to their friends. And here’s the truth: it was a good thing they had their friends before their tragedy struck. And their tragedy was they just got out of jail. Might I encourage you to have Christian friends before your tragedy comes, before your trial comes, before your troubles come.

What I find at Mars Hill is oftentimes people will ignore Christian community, they won’t get involved in a Community Group, they won’t pursue church membership, they won’t get in relational connection with God’s people, and then something happens. It could be something good. “Hey, we’re getting married. We need premarital counseling,” you know? It could be something bad. “I got cancer.” “We’re getting divorced,” or whatever. “I lost my job.” And then people run into the church, and they want to microwave relationships. “Give me, just, close friends whom I can totally trust and lean on, and they can do the same for me, and I’d like them all today.”

I would just beg you, because I love you and I want good for you, to pursue Christian friendship before it’s seemingly an urgent need. And the question is not just, “Who can you lean on?” but “Who can lean on you?” Who are you a friend to? Who are you inviting, saying, “You know, if you need me, call me. I’m checking in. I’m praying. I love you. I’m concerned for you. I want to be here for you. I’m part of your life. You can depend on me.” And when we think of community, what we often think of is people I can use to make my life better. That’s not the Christian concept. The Christian concept is people I can serve and love because Jesus loves them.

Mark Driscoll, Empowered by the Spirit to pray – Mars Hill Church, July 21 2013

I have benefited greatly from some strong Christian friendships in recent months, and I hope that when my friends need love and support I will be there for them too (I intend to be!). It can be hard work to put in the time when you feel like hiding away and not engaging with people. But it is really worth it. And that’s what it means to be part of God’s people.