My all-time favorite sitcom is Friends. Though I was a bit late to the party initially, I've now seen every single episode.
Let's be honest: I've seen every episode way more than once. I can recite most of them word for word.
Yet, I return to this sitcom again and again because it makes me laugh... Hard. And it does so because it's a comedy that's more relatable than outlandish. I like Rachel, Ross, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe, and Joey because their stories are, in so many ways, my stories. I readily admit, I want them to be my friends... Or at the very least, I want friends who are like them, who will make me laugh while walking with me through the good and bad in my life, not just for a short period of time, but for years.
In so many ways, I believe Friends speaks to the God-given desire we, as humans, have to be in community and in deep relationships with others. Though community is sometimes excruciatingly hard, I know my life is better because of the communities I am blessed to be a part of. The relationships I hold dear make me who I am.
Though some friendships form naturally between people with whom we easily and readily connect, I also firmly believe it's possible to form community in and amongst people who have no natural chemistry with one another. The thing is, forming community under those circumstances takes work. It requires intentionality, investment, a great deal of time, and a willingness to be vulnerable.
Over the last few years, I've intentionally sought to develop community in and amongst ministry leaders. The desire to do so comes from a deeply held belief that not only are we, as Christians, called to be in community, but community nourishes the soul and prevents burnout. That's why approximately six times a year, we replace youth work with leader's training.
Certainly, the training we do during this time is important. It equips our leaders for effective ministry. However, perhaps even more significant than the training that happens at these meetings is the community that's begun to form here, despite the awkwardness that's part of our first gathering each year. To overcome this awkwardness, we continually invest in this community by doing three simple things.
First, we hold our leader's trainings at my home rather than at the church. No doubt, a home setting is far better suited for developing friendships than the sterile walls of a church meeting room. More than that, however, inviting people into our homes – however cluttered and quirky they might be – invites them into our lives in a deeply personal way.
Secondly, we feed people. Some weeks, people come hungry and ready to eat. Other weeks, they don't. But we always have food – and not just youth ministry junk food – but home-cooked, hearty, and delicious meals. Food prompts conversation but more than that, we share food with those we love. Eating together is, therefore, a natural part of building community. There's something powerful about giving leaders the opportunity to practice hospitality and serve one another by bringing various parts of the meal.
Last though certainly not least, we intentionally invest in our community by asking everyone to answer a question over dinner that gives them the opportunity to get to know one another and care for each other.
Last night when our leader's met, over butternut squash pasta, fruit, salad, and molasses cake, we shared our answers to two questions:
1) What's one hope you have for 2013?
2) What are you currently praying about?
In response to these questions, people shared dreams for themselves, their children, and their friends. They shared about things weighing heavily on their hearts and they did so openly and honestly. Afterward, we prayed for one another's hopes and burdens.
It was utterly simple and remarkably powerful.
In reflecting on last night, I've realized that I don't know if this group of leaders will ever live across the hall from each other, travel to exotic places together, celebrate weddings, or share Thanksgiving shenanigans with each other like Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Monica, Joey, and Phoebe did. I suspect they won't, but who knows.
What I do know is this: The leaders who filled my house with laughter and joy last night are part of the community God has given me, not only to develop and mold, but to walk with me in life. I felt that last night so much so that when the last person left my house, I closed the door and collapsed on the couch, convinced that for just a moment, a few of us had gathered on holy ground - right there in the middle of my living room.