Hebrews 3:12-13: Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.

Spiritual formation occurs primarily in the context of community. Persons who remain connected with their brothers and sisters in the local church almost invariably grow in self-understanding. And they mature in their ability to relate in healthy ways to God and to their fellow human beings. This is especially the case for those courageous Christians who stick it out through the often messy process of personal discord and conflict. Long-term interpersonal relationships are the true indicators of genuine progress in the Christian life.

People who connect grow. elderly-old-personPeople who don’t connect do not grow. We all know persons who are consumed with spiritual wandering. But we never get to know them very well because they cannot seem to stay put. They move along from church to church, ever searching for a congregation that will better satisfy their felt needs. Like trees repeatedly transplanted from soil to soil, these spiritual wanderers fail to put down roots, and they seldom experience lasting, fruitful growth in their Christian lives.

Then there are those who never really connect to the church to avoid working through uncomfortable or painful relations with others in the church family. Isolation does provide immediate relief from the awkwardness of opening up your life to others. It is the easy way out in the short term. And there are some legitimate reasons to keep areas of your life private. But persons who isolate themselves to escape the hard work of self-examination are often destined to remain in a state of personal stagnant growth and relational dysfunction with other people in the church family.

It is a simple but profound biblical reality. We grow and thrive together. Or we do not grow much at all. None of this is terribly novel. We all know it to be the case. Why, then, do we so often sabotage our most intimate relationships, seek help from others only after the damage is irreversible, and continue to try to find our way through life as isolated individuals, convinced somehow that God will remain with us to lead us and bless us wherever we go? Why do we continue foolishly to operate as if our own immediate happiness is of greater value than the redemptive relationships God has placed us in? Why are we seemingly unable to stay in relationship, stay in community, and grow in the interpersonal contexts that God has provided for our temporal and eternal well-being? [to be continued]