I grew up in the era of the sanctification checklist. “Have you read your Bible today? Have you spent time in prayer? At church? Serving others? Memorizing Scripture? At Bible study?” The list goes on. Extra points if your youth pastor added, “Did you spend more time reading your Bible or looking in the mirror this morning?”
This guidance came from leaders who desired to see teenagers fully devoted to Christ, but it felt like a fifty-pound weight on my already burdened heart. I longed for the satisfaction of feeling right before God—and that weight on my chest only increased my zeal.
Maybe, I thought, some more marks in those checkboxes would help me become holy. Maybe I can check off the boxes before the weight crushes me.
Many praise the move away from this type of ministry, but I wonder how far we’ve really gone.
Since college, I’ve noticed an increased emphasis on “living in community,” “doing life together,” “loving on each other,” and so on. This essentially good desire has come to a fever pitch—hashtags, blog posts, books, you name it. Community is king. At least, that’s how I saw it until recently.
Now, though, I’m wondering if we’ve actually replaced the checklist with community, or if perhaps the checkboxes of our teenage years walked into our home group/life group/community group with us.
A few months ago, Hannah Anderson and I started a Twitter conversation.
Do we long for "authentic community" in order to serve or to be served? Do we pursue relationships to meet our own needs or for union?— hannah anderson (@sometimesalight) September 20, 2016
@sometimesalight yes! I always wonder this when I see soooo much social media chatter about "community" & "doing life together."— Abby Perry (@abbyjperry) September 20, 2016
@abbyjperry Like a good marriage, the focus is outward. Not self-absorbed & inevitably self-consuming.— hannah anderson (@sometimesalight) September 20, 2016
@abbyjperry YES! Exactly this. Community appropriated for my own personal benefit.— hannah anderson (@sometimesalight) September 20, 2016
Hannah and I acknowledged that true community will often have the beautiful byproduct of meeting individual needs.
But, we wondered, why is it that we sneak our personal feel-goods to the top of the priority list when it comes to building relationships? Is community really king, or is something else sitting on the throne?
When I think about this in my own life: I look back on years of friendships that have been truly meaningful. At the same time, I see something less praiseworthy. There is a selfish thread of wanting human relationships not only to fill lonely holes in my heart but to assemble themselves in the form of a checkmark that I could place in the “community” box on my personal sanctification checklist.
The truth is there have been far too many times that my chief motivation—conscious or otherwise—has been to achieve a level of personal sanctification that helps me feel like a “good Christian.”
As a result, people, community, and relationships have become a commodity. I am looking for acquisitions. The kind that make me look and feel some self-defined version of “holier.” In reality, of course, it’s not holy at all. It’s an irony bitter as they come: Community isn’t the king. I am. And the crown is falling.
Let’s enthrone corporate sanctification.
A life of self-sacrifice is required to dwell richly in the Body of Christ. When we elevate our individual checklist to a position above the wellbeing of others, we are ironically scorning the true process of becoming like Christ.
We need a mindset shift. Instead of obsessing over our own personal sanctification we need to focus on corporate sanctification. The kind that views individuals as members of a body that is being sanctified together, prepared as a bride to meet her husband (Revelation 21:2), stands only to enhance our perspective on and experience of living in community.
How, then, do we figure out what we’re doing? How do we determine if we are approaching friendships selfishly—only in it for what we can get? whether to patch wounds of loneliness or past hurt, or to give ourselves the smug satisfaction of a Christian life correctly lived? Here’s how.
Look for people who view time spent together as a collective deep breath, lungs filled, prepared to breathe out grace on a hurting world. People who love deeply and serve sacrificially.
Look for the people who are honest in their weakness and their pain.
Look for the people who are willing to sacrifice their own agendas for a collective imagination.
Look for the people who have dreams that go beyond plans for their own lives and require personal sacrifice for the building up of the church and the sake of the common good.
This is what friends are for.
Friends are for banding together and proclaiming, “We are going to do hard things that matter.” Friends are for linking arms and saying, “Our roles will look different, our gifts are not the same, and I am thankful for that.”
We will do this together because we need each other to accomplish that which God has set before us, not because we need each other to satisfy our own needs.
Relationships are not for checkboxes. Friendships are not an asset. Let community be a gift, and enjoy discovering with each new day what it really is that friends are for.
Cover image by Priscilla.