A few days ago, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy released a report addressing the “epidemic of loneliness and isolation” prevalent in America today. He also laid out a framework for a “National Strategy to Advance Social Connection.” The report concludes social connection is as essential for human flourishing as food, water, or shelter. It rightly claims humans have always relied on each other for survival, including modern people who still need connection with others.
In response to this national crisis, Dr. Murthy proposed a new strategy built around six pillars or strategies. The first pillar includes promoting volunteer programs and religious organizations. It is interesting religious organizations—churches, synagogues, temples, and other gatherings—would be included in a government report on solving a national epidemic.
If resolving loneliness is a pressing social problem today, the church is poised to be a key part of the solution. The simplest definition of the church—from my seminary class notes forty years ago—is “a fellowship on mission.” We often emphasize the latter part of that definition—being on mission. But the first part of the definition is equally important. The church is a fellowship—a fellowship which emerges through mission.
The biblical concept of fellowship is far more than social gatherings, shared meals, or some version of “southern hospitality.” It can include all of these, but goes much deeper. Real fellowship is what people today call community. Its sharing life with people—bearing each other’s burdens, supporting each other when life is painful, caring for practical needs, and defending others in moments of weakness or vulnerability. Sounds like church to me!
Being in fellowship with a church begins with showing up. Be with your church family regularly. The next step is serving, not being served. Don’t wait for someone to reach out to you, just step forward and get involved. As you serve, you will develop relationships with people who share your interests, passion, positions, schedule, and purpose. This is one of the mistakes people make today who are trying to create community. They think community comes from sitting, talking, and drinking coffee. Nope. Community comes from being on mission together—doing something that knits our hearts to others who see and share life the way we do.
Have you ever wondered why men who were in the military together thirty years ago feel closer to their distant comrades than their current neighbors? The answer is they served together, doing something that mattered and bonded through the experience. We have a similar experience when we sacrifice ourselves together for eternal purposes through the church.
If you want community—real fellowship—get on mission serving with some fellow believers. As you do, loneliness will evaporate—perhaps slowly at first, but as surely as the morning dew disappears so will your sense of isolation. Healthy churches are one solution to the national pandemic of loneliness. We offer people eternal life in Jesus, but also meaningful life today serving Him in community with fellow believers.
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