When I first graduated from college and moved to a new city, Sundays were my loneliest days. Sitting alone in a church pew and awkwardly lurking around the coffee bar hoping to strike up a conversation with someone was bad enough, but it was after church that I most missed my family and friends. Sunday afternoons used to be my favorite part of the week, because my family would eat lunch together after church: a time of catching up on the week, sharing a meal, laughing, and sharing stories. Driving home by myself after church was always hard.
I learned to grab lunch with a friend from Bible study or call my sister on the drive home, but I knew that I had found my church family when I realized that Sunday afternoons were full again. A group from church—of single people and married couples, fresh out of college or a decade into their career, studying and working in a variety of fields—were eating together after church. We had so many opportunities to learn the Bible together at church, but it was once we started sharing—a meal, our resources, and our real selves—that we belonged to each other.
It was a glimpse of how the early church operated. These new believers not only devoted themselves to good doctrine (“the apostles’ teaching), they built relationships with one another, ate meals together, and prayed together. Acts 2 tells us they sold their possessions to give to those among them that had need, they met together frequently, and they spent time in each other’s homes.
We can spend years going to church and have nothing like what these early Jesus followers had. They did not merely gather to gain doctrinal information, as if human beings were merely computers that needed the right data inputted into them in order to function properly. They built lives together the way humans were intended to live and flourish: with friends, making food, taking care of each other’s material needs. They didn’t split up the spiritual and secular the way we often do. They recognized that being a Christian means being a human being, fully alive.
This shift happened for me when my Sunday school started holding occasional potlucks. We each contributed something: food that nourished our bodies, often a little piece of our upbringing in the form of family recipes, the kind of conversation that only comes over a meal. Eventually, we started meeting to eat together every week. Not long after that I began to notice all the other things we had started doing for one another: pooling our money to buy a plane ticket to a funeral of a friend, packing boxes and hauling furniture into a new apartment, dropping off meals to a new mom. These were not organized by any one person; they seemed the natural outworking of spending time together every week.
Friendships are not unnecessary extras in the Christian life. They are part of what it means to be a flourishing community, and they witness to the world the truth of the gospel we confess. Acts 2:47 tells us that as the early church lived their whole lives together, God “was adding to their number every day.” Our salvation is a work of God, but He often accomplishes that work through His people. It is no accident that this rich description of Christian community has a reminder of God adding to their numbers tacked on at the end. There is something incredibly attractive about people who have found their place of belonging.
One way we share the truth of the gospel is by seeking and building strong relationships and communities. My little group does a lot of good for each other, but we also annoy each other frequently. We disagree about big and little things, we hurt each other’s feelings whether intentionally or not, and we all bring our own sin and heartbreak into the relationship. The world is accustomed to dynamics like that, but what often surprises them is a community that works through their differences to serve one another.
I am fully confident that members of the early church annoyed each other, not only because they were fallen humans as we are, but because many of their disputes are recorded in Scripture! And yet, Acts 2 tells us that they spent time together, ate together, and pooled their resources to take care of one another. They witnessed the reconciliation God had done in each of their hearts by reconciling to each other as well. Much about the world and our churches has changed since then, but the opportunity to be a witness to the world in our communities has not.
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