“I’ve never told this to anyone but you.” For me, this is the saddest statement a client can make to me. So many individuals and families feel a deep sense of loneliness and isolation, even those who are connected with the local body of Christ. They feel lost when it comes to finding an authentic community that will walk with them through their hurts, their failures, and their triumphs.

At a roundtable discussion this weekend in Katy, Tx, we were challenged to consider how the church can better support the nuclear family in dealing with the dysfunction that every one of us has hidden behind our white pickett fences, manicured lawns, and pristine porticos. For me, there are several solutions, all of which were reinforced to me in a message given at our church this Sunday. The passage was Hebrews 13:1-6. Here were the summary points I developed from what I heard:

1. Host intentionally (vs 1-2) – We have become so program-oriented in our culture that we delegate the responsibility of fostering community to an organization, namely the church. I have said this often, but churches are not to be the locus of community. The home should!! Churches need to teach their members what it means to be hospitable. Some of the most authentic people I have known are those who open their homes to strangers. This may feel awkward at first, even terrifying, but the rewards are so worth it. If you want to open up to others and them to do the same, then open your home. Be intentional about the informal moments of life. You just might entertain (and be entertained by) angels.

2. Heal wholly (vs 3) – When working with those struggling with depression, I often find myself saying, “Look beyond your own pain.” Not only is this good for distraction, but it increases a sense of purpose that many depressed individuals lack. When one part of the body hurts, the whole body hurts. Therefore, to heal ourselves, we must heal others as well. Hebrews tells us to visit those who are in prison. What prisons do we find ourselves in? The prisons of addiction, loneliness, bitterness, pride, doubt, guilt, painful memories. Who is your family helping to heal? What ministries does your church have to the poor, the widows, and the fatherless. This is pure and undefiled religion! It’s time to stop consuming as families and start serving as families.

3. Honor Absolutely (vs. 4) – In this life, there are absolutes. Marriage is one of them. If you want to honor the family (see it remain strong and healthy), then honor marriage. Marriage is the foundation of the family and the family is the foundation of the rest of society. Churches are responsible for encouraging fathers to be the spiritual leaders in their home, mothers to nuture and support, and children to honor their parents. But what other absolutes do you stand for? Does your family share any convictions? Our postmodern world is always questioning and never answering. Some people may resent you for your convictions but stand by them. In doing so, you will help to establish a community with clear boundaries, one that will give a true sense of belonging to those who choose to join.

4. Hold loosely (vs. 5) – Dallas is the city of the Jones’s…and everyone is trying to keep up with them. Why are we surprised, then, when our churches do the same thing? We look at the membership rolls, the size of the auditorium, the media equipment, the revenue, the clout of our members, the entertainment for our children and we call that success. If this is the case, then what is the  church teaching the family? Listen: coming to church in jeans and t-shirts is not a measure of how accepting a church is. If we want families to learn contentment, then we better start showing it in our church! If someone has a song to sing to the Lord and they don’t hit all the right notes, is that a crime? If a man has been spoken to by God this past week, do we silence him because he does not have a seminary degree? Is it right to hire outside consultants to teach us how to use psychology to manipulate the minds and emotions of our congregations to give more money to the mega-building fund? Perhaps if we stopped flaunting and fleeing consumerism in our churches, we might see our families follow suit.

5. Herald confidently (vs. 6) – as we honor God individually and as families, we can proclaim confidently “The Lord is my helper. I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” Authentic community is so because it has nothing to fear from the outside. It can speak its message clearly and directly with open arms…no hidden agendas, no alterior motives, just truth in love. That’s the kind of community I want to be apart of!!

Question: Where have you found authentic community? What are the qualities or attributes that make it so?