In this session we take a look at the profound shift that must take place in our attitude toward one another if we are truly going to cultivate a village on mission animated by the love of God.
CAVEAT: The content below was originally written before the pandemic, so please apply it with wisdom and discernment.
Perhaps you have sat in a group of people at church and thought to yourself:
“I just don’t like the people who are coming to my church! I wouldn’t choose to hang out with these people, and it’s hard to create a village with people you wouldn’t normally hang out with!”
When it hits us, it’s quiet a stunning and a little embarrassing. On the surface it seems like an innocuous expectation. We expect that we should be able to choose who and how we build “community” with others.
This brings us face to face with one of the hidden ways we are trained as consumers; we assume we ought to be able to hang out with people we like.
We all carry around a built-in “affinity bias.” It’s normal and natural to gravitate toward people who are similar to us, people who enjoy the same kinds of experiences we do. But affinity bias becomes a problem when we don’t reflect on and ask questions about our choices.
So, while it’s normal to want to hang out with people we like, should we expect that this is the way is will always work?
Paul’s affinity affection for the churches
As I read through the Apostle Paul’s interactions with the churches he planted, I’m struck by the exuberant, overflowing affection he expresses for the diverse, often troubled churches he planted.
· “God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:8).
· “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thess 2:8).
· “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you” (Gal 4:19).
This breathtaking affection co-exists with the massive problems Paul had to address in these churches. Paul expresses an affection that is clearly stronger and more robust than the mild feelings of enjoyment that come from spending time with people you like.
From convenient affinity to cultivated affection
It would seem that if we’re going to build an actual village among those we lead, we’re going to have to shift from what is an inherent and natural (affinity) to that which is intentional and nurtured (affection).
Affinity is where we relate to others who make us feel good about ourselves, whom we share something in common with already. Affinities are just our preferences, perhaps a place to start.
Affection calls you to cultivate new levels of being together. It can be with people who you already have an affinity for, or people you would not ordinarily think to connect with. It takes intentional investment for it to grow.
In our society today we are very much consumers, and our preference is the law by which we choose how to move forward. For those who are mature, those who are followers of Jesus, preference is just preference. Eventually we move past preference and we recognize where life is happening and move in that direction.
The beautiful thing is that, as we move past the confines of affinity and begin exploring the wide open (and often scary) world of learning affection for those who aren’t like us, we grow! We actually learn to love as Jesus loves.
Learning to feel affection
This struggle is real. If I am a parent, I don’t always get to choose my children’s teachers. I might not like the teacher, but the most important job I have is to recognize them and build an affection for them so as to warm up my child to this teacher. If my child does not like their teacher, there will be very little learning happening at school.
In a family we hopefully get some say in whom our spouse is, but we don’t get to choose all our relatives. At work, or leading a church or small group, I am sure we would love to hand-pick our favorite people to be with, but rarely do we get this choice. And, we’ll always be surprised by who joins and sticks and who doesn’t.
If we are intentional, our affection for one another grows! We learn to appreciate the personality quirks that would have separated us. There is a grace that shows up, and this grace allows this growth to happen even if we didn’t get to chosen this group to be with.
Recognize where life is happening
When these groups form, we are looking for others who are also drawn to the same life happening that we are, others who are drawn to the mission we are collectively on.
My wife and I have a few single friends who are not very interested in hanging out when our children are around. Perhaps our friendships started before we were even married, so family was not a common interest when we first connected. These friends are part of our lives - yes, maybe even a part of our supporting cast, but not part of our children’s village.
To grow a village to raise our children we are looking for our friends who take an interest in them, other adults who invite our children into their presence. We too reciprocate by taking interest in some of our friends’ children, this then is our forming of a village.
It is very important that all in the village have the same mission, even if we are engaging in different ways.
The adults need to intentionally build the village
To build our village, we introduce our children to other adults, such as each year to their new teachers. In our modern culture the rituals of introduction has been forgotten. We must revive our greeting rituals to warm up the relationships in our villages. We must connect before we direct.
We not only take the lead and introduce members of our village to each other, we also matchmake them, we warm up the relationship by causing them to think they like each other.
I experienced a great example of matchmaking not long ago. I was a patient in the hospital, and a nurse was tending to my needs who was a little tired. Another matron came over (whom was not actually caring for me), she came over anyway and warmed up our relationship. She introduced this nurse to me, saying she was one of her favorite nurses, that I will like her … and I did. I responded saying I was happy to have her look after me and what a great job she was doing. The relationship was warmed up and everything went much better from then on. We talked, shared stories and time flew by much easier as she was working.
We are also aware that attachment develops on stages. This development can be primed by intentionally connecting at deeper levels.
For example, when we see conflict, we know there is some felt separation, something that is alarming. There are certainly healthy ways to engage with conflicts that bring some resolution to the issue, and it is worth learning these tools. However, conflict is also an opportunity for developing a deeper level of connection, and we can intentionally prime this development. This is the growth that can come out of conflict. It is a growing into a deeper way of connecting.
Transitions in a village
Just like identifying people who might join our village, or who make up our villages, sometimes we let people out of our village as well. Sometimes this happens naturally. Perhaps someone moves away to take the next planed step in their career, or their life situation has a change. Often, we celebrate to bless this transition, which is really important for all.
However, some transitions happen because of mission mismatch. One indicator for us as leaders or adults, is are we maturing? Is their growth in us? If not, this may indicate it’s time for a transition. If we are not maturing as human beings then we are shrinking, which we would never wish on anyone. We find this perspective too, helps us normalize the difficult transitions we sometimes face, making it healthier for all.
It truly is possible to grow into deep affection with those that are part of our village on mission. There are deliberate steps we all need to take to create our villages, to make them a safe place, a place that invites us all to grow in maturity. I trust this session gives you some ideas and inspires you as to the way forward.