A typical conversation at church:
Me: “How are you?”
Person: “Great! And you?”
Me: “Great! How’s work?”
Person: “Great! How’s school?”
Me: “Great! How’s the wife?”
Person: “Great! How’s the fiancé?”
Me: “Great! It’s been great talking to you!”
Little do I realize…that person is not really doing great – his youngest threw a temper-tantrum in the restaurant last night and his oldest won’t even speak to him. He and his wife are having marriage problems, and his job is not looking that secure.
And little does he realize what I’m going through. He doesn’t know that I’ve had a rough week fighting sin and stress. That I’m struggling with a long-distance relationship or that there aren’t a lot of people my age to hang out with this summer. That I’m confused about my future direction and unsure of how I’m going to provide when I get married. That I’m burdened for the kids I’m ministering to and wondering how in the world to invest in them.
Behind the many “Great!”s lie many problems, heartaches, burdens, and maybe even secret struggles.
Perhaps all we need to do is add one little word:
“How are you really?”
“But I don’t want to be nosy!”
Fiddlesticks! A little nosiness never killed anybody. But shallow relationships in the church – sin being covered up, hiding things, not confessing faults, ignoring the problems we see others having – that kind of “respectable distance” among church members has led to great suffering.
What we need more of in our church – particularly between generations – is a little of what I like to call “sanctified nosiness.”
Where we purposely try to enter people’s lives, develop trust with them, and go down to the deepest level we possibly can with them. You can call it discipling, mentoring, iron-sharpening-iron, investing in others – pick your word or make up a new one!
It looks like one man sitting down for coffee (or tea, if you prefer) with another man and telling him his struggles – all his problems, pain, temptations, failures, and dreams. It looks like coffee and confession mixing together. It looks like a little spilled mocha and a lot of spilled heart. And it looks like every week over a long period of time with the same drink order, same Bible, same problems, and same God.
It may look like a daily text message: “How did you do today? Did you maintain purity? Did you talk to your wife? Did you share Jesus with that coworker? Did you ask for forgiveness from your parents? Did you delete that app?”
Above all, it looks like Hebrews 3:13: “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
I love that word “exhort” – parakaleo in Greek. It means to “call to one’s side.” It speaks of the idea of calling someone to walk with you down the path of godliness. Paul uses it frequently in his letters to “exhort” or “encourage” his readers to love Jesus and hate sin. It can have the idea of “comforting” – used as a name for the Holy Spirit (Paraclete, our Comforter). It can also have the idea of “urging” – in this verse, urging fellow believers not to be hardened by deceitful and dangerous sin.
And we’re to do this every day. There doesn’t seem to be much room in Scripture for the whole come-on-Sunday, live-however-you-want-Monday-to-Friday Christianity. Scripture calls for believers to hang out regularly – to communicate beyond the confines of the church’s building and parakalize one another (I need to copyright that word).
Every. Single. Stinking. Day.
We have no excuse in an age when we can communicate with anyone around the world with the click of the “Send” button. Texting or messaging is no replacement for face-to-face contact, but it is a great supplementary tool to keep in contact with fellow believers. To get updates on their lives. To get prayer requests (and actually pray for them). Or, best yet, to set up a time to meet for coffee and conversation.
Not for shallow conversation. Deep conversation.
It may not happen at first, but as you get to know one another week-by-week, you’ll start to develop trust. And gradually, you’ll open up more and more. It may take some awkwardness – the best parts of life always do. But don’t shy away. Don’t hide. Don’t put on a mask of piety in church when you know good and well that your life is in shambles.
Most of our lives are. And you never know – by opening up, you may find a fellow sufferer who has good advice for your struggle. Or, you may find someone you can encourage with what God’s taught you in your messy life.
Maybe your conversation at church can look more like this:
“How are you?”
“To be honest, I’m struggling. It’s been a rough week…but God is good!”
“Amen. You wanna catch some coffee this afternoon and talk about it? I have some issues I’d like to run by you as well.”
“I’d love to!”