NOTE: Today’s Daily Article is by Mark Turman, pastor of Crosspoint Church in McKinney, Texas. He is also the Denison Forum Senior Fellow for Church Leadership.
I recently had lunch with an old friend who greatly impacted my life during my teen years, including being instrumental in my decision to become a Christian.
The lunch reminded me of the pastor who said, “More good gets done over a cup of coffee between two friends than occurs all day long in the counselor’s office.” Thomas Aquinas would apparently agree. He wrote, “There is nothing on this earth to be more prized than true friendship.”
Americans seem to be suffering an epidemic of loneliness, according to a recent study by the Survey Center on American Life. Reporting on this study, Ben Cost in the New York Post wrote, “Signs suggest that the role of friends in American social life is experiencing a pronounced decline.” The study showed that “Americans report having fewer close friendships than they once did, talking to their friends less often, and relying less on their friends for personal support.”
The article continues, “Per the shocking study, nearly half of all Americans—49 percent—reported having fewer than three close friends. . . . If that wasn’t bad enough, a mind-boggling 12 percent of interviewees claimed to have zero friends today, four times as many as thirty years ago, per the survey.”
As Christians, we can and should be the remedy to this epidemic.
The biggest obstacle to connection
Mark 12:30–31 tells us that the greatest thing we ever do is love God and others. Love is the ultimate connection word and the most sacred work.
First, we connect to God by responding to his revelation and love; this is faith.
We connect with him in worship consistently. He is our God and our Father. He does everything a perfect father should do. He creates us, protects us, provides for us, and guides us.
We are also made to love each other—to connect at the most profound levels as we learn from God how to rightly love both our Father and our sacred siblings in the family of God.
The Covid-19 pandemic has presented us with connecting challenges. Perhaps the most devastating thing about the pandemic—besides the tragically high number of people who have been lost in death—is the amount of distance that’s been required of us.
But Covid is not the biggest obstacle to connection. Our sinful nature causes us to act in selfish ways that block and destroy loving connections. This is the irony of the human condition: we want to love, to deeply connect, to “become one” in unity with others, but our selfishness keeps undermining us.
This is why we need the saving and transforming work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit in our lives daily, to train us so we can connect well.
But how can we make intentional progress?
Four ways to deepen your connections
There are several ways to increase our connections with others, all of which can happen well in a local church. How do we develop growing connections of love?
1. Spend time together.
The first is almost too obvious: spend time together. Covid restrictions and isolation have reminded us of the great value of human presence. Technology can be very useful, but nothing substitutes for being in the actual physical presence of others. Even before Covid hit the world, there were calls for us to limit our technology in favor of being “fully present” with those in front of us.
In faith, people often pray “God be with us.” When people are ill, one of their biggest concerns is being alone. In our fast-paced, digital society, we can electronically see each other’s high points on social media, but we don’t really have a sense of how they’re truly doing. We run the risk of having many acquaintances that are a hundred miles wide and a half-inch deep.
Proverbs 18:24 warns us, “A person of too many friends comes to ruin, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (NASB). We’re better off having fewer friends and real depth. Make a plan to invest intentional time to be with those “safe” people for unscripted conversations about everything or nothing at all. Relational depth cannot be rushed.
2. Celebrate together.
Second, we connect with each other when we celebrate together. This is why birthdays, weddings, and other life celebrations matter. The Bible tells us to “rejoice with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:15). When good things happen, we naturally want to share them with people.
We also need to practice the loving and humble choice of celebrating with others even when our current situation is not great. It is a selfless choice to look beyond our own circumstances and to enter the joy of others honestly and eagerly.
It was said of Teddy Roosevelt that he wanted to be “the bride at every wedding.” Are we willing to confess and repent of an unhealthy spirit that wants to be in the “winner’s circle” of joy every time and never in the cheering crowd of witnesses who celebrate the good moments in other’s lives?
Christians are commanded to worship (celebrate) God’s goodness together every sevendays as a means of bonding to our God and to each other.
3. Serve together.
A third way to really connect with others is to serve together. The Apostle Paul urged the Christians in ancient Philippi, “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear about you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27).
Those in the sports world know a lot about this. Players at every level of sport profess that the greatest thing about their athletic experiences is not the trophies but the camaraderie of their fellow players.
As a pastor, I see this happen often. People bond across shared ministry service. Sometimes it’s Worship Team members facilitating congregational worship. It can be a group of people mowing the church yard so those funds can be redirected to more spiritual purposes.
Many are the stories that bond servants together as sponsors of a summer camp for children or teens, or the shared goal experienced in bringing the gospel and God’s goodness to people through a mission trip.
Where can you team up in your church to share and live out Jesus’ Good News?
4. Shed tears together.
The deepest way to develop connections with others is to shed tears together. The Bible also says to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).
The most sacred thing we ever share with others is pain. We foolishly hide our vulnerability from each other, acting as if we are getting through life unscathed and unscared. We are experts at projecting that we don’t have problems with temptation, sin, addiction, fear, frustration, and failure. This is the facade of social media. We usually only show the upside of our lives.
Pastor John Claypool was famous for his confessional style of preaching and teaching. He said that we most help each other from the position of fellow strugglers rather than as victors speaking to victims. When we allow others into our pain and tears or vice-versa, we have stepped into some of the most sacred space there is.
As a pastor, the holiest ground I’ve ever stood on was in a hospital ICU room when a mom and dad said goodbye to their dying child just prior to graciously donating his vital organs to others. We forever bonded in that experience.
Similar bonding occurs on the battlefields of the world and in a million other smaller places where human beings link hands and hearts in the worst of life’s moments, seeking God’s help together.
Take some time today to do your own friendship audit. Don’t rush it. Think and pray it through.
Friends are priceless gifts of grace.
Whom could you call (not text!), invite to lunch or coffee, and give the precious gift of your time as you receive theirs?
The church has the power to stop the epidemic of loneliness.
Ask God to help you deepen your connections today—then seek to be the friend to others that Jesus is to you.