Check out Romans 12:9-16. Here Paul encourages Christians to truly love and care for one another regardless of social class. Most of our churches have some form of non-discrimination policy, yet as we look around at our congregations we see clear social circles. How many of our rural communities still have predominantly “black churches” and “white churches”. Some even have “hispanic congregations” now. These labels we use as we talk about one another clearly, and unfortunately divide, us. Often we are divided even further within our own congregations by all of the things we say we don’t discriminate against …and more.
In children’s ministry, these divides are less problematic. Children don’t see many of these things. They either like each other or not … in each moment. Many rural churches engage large numbers of a variety of children in vacation Bible School, after school programs, and other activities. The trouble is engaging them in discipleship together as they grow up. Somewhere around 8th and 9th grade social circles become more defined and they either want to hang out together or they don’t…period. It becomes more and more difficult to keep students around unless their circle of friends are also there (and certain others are not).
Post-high school life sends students in different directions. Some continue with education while others go to work. Some start families, while others focus on careers. Some mature more quickly than others for various reasons. Some feel lost, while others are confident and driven. Most tend to gravitate toward others in similar situations and don’t feel they fit in with those who are “in different places”.
Sometimes, you’ll find a student who really does love and include everyone and continues to do so through out his/her life. But most of the time we are not modeling this well enough ourselves, so our students aren’t picking up on it. We can study this passage together. We can teach about loving our neighbors. We can take them on mission trips and do community service together regularly, but if we are not “loving each other with genuine affection and taking delight in honoring each other”, then our students won’t either.
It is ok to have groups of friends, but we need to teach students how to weave those groups together with the love of God in Jesus Christ. Verse 13 reads, “Always be eager to practice hospitality.” True hospitality is not simply welcoming, but showing genuine love and care for a person; helping them to feel they belong.
How are you personally loving and caring for those who don’t run in your immediate social circles? How interwoven are the social circles in your congregation? How easily can any new person be included in these circles? This week, discus with others in your social circles about the barriers you may have put up personally or collectively and how you might allow the Holy Spirit to bring those down and teach you to genuinely love, and associate with, those who are not like you.