I was having dinner with some friends a couple weeks ago, and we were talking about the recent events we’d attended. Baby showers, birthdays, that sort of thing. I enthusiastically explained that I was having a blast getting to know all these new friends at these events. New places and people were once pretty daunting to me, and making friends this fast would normally be difficult.
My husband then said, “Well, you are Miss Popularity these days.”
His comment surprised me. Honestly, it knocked a little breath out of me. I passed it off simply as the words of a proud husband and said, “I’ve never been popular. I’m not sure what that looks like.” Later I mulled over our conversation, and I thought about what it means to be popular. Why did it shock me so much when those words left Andy’s mouth? And why was I so quick to knock them down?
I’ve never been popular. It’s kind of an odd sentence to write–like the start of an after-school special. I imagine a teenager eating lunch by herself in the school cafeteria, or being picked last for dodgeball. Popularity in the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary means: “liked or enjoyed by many people.” Historically, popularity and I have never really gotten along. I was always the back of the class comedian, the second-best, the dependable Sam preventing Frodo from wiggin’ out too much while carrying the Ring.
I always considered popularity to be vain, shallow, and disconnected from reality. It’s a word I would rebel against, since I didn’t see it as any part of my own identity. Yet as I prayed about this situation a scripture came to mind: Luke 2:52. (NIV). “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” That word “favor” in the Strong’s means Grace–that which pertains to joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness. Grace of speech.
I think there is something in our Christian culture that sometimes equates popularity with heresy. We are called to stand against the grain, and therefore we are often ridiculed. That’s the price of the gospel. And while I would agree in this day and age that we are coming to a tipping point where Christians are going to need to know what they believe and to live it, within the Christian community, shouldn’t we all be popular?
We have a generation of believers who desperately want to be popular. However, as I was processing this season of my life–one where there is a grace and ease in making new friends and stepping out in new areas of risk–I realized that most of the church doesn’t want to be popular.
The church wants to belong.
See, I don’t think I’m popular; I think people want to know me as much as I want to know them. Belonging is not a new concept in our culture, but I want to close with a few thoughts on why I believe my husband and I have stepped into a new season of belonging.
We’ve Asked God to Keep Us Humble: Wait…Don’t they say that claiming to be humble means you’re not humble? Uh oh! Kidding aside, our prayer is that God would pinpoint areas in our lives that have held us back from belonging and from humility, which I believe is the precursor to truly belonging. We’ve felt a tremendous season of growth in this area.
We Go to an “Average-” Sized Church: In the US the average church has about 89 members. Our church has a few hundred members–so not too far off. What we appreciate about it is that it’s multiplying into other average-sized sites. Large churches have their own strengths, and some churchgoers prefer them, but for us it’s hard to get to know people when we can’t find them. Repetition is key in building relationships. Quality time is not just a love language; it’s a necessity.
Our Church Has Fathers and Mothers: I’m sorry, but age does matter when you’re still growing in God and trying to navigate your 30’s. It’s hard to be lead by a brother or sister, and competition arises when siblings try to parent each other. I’m not saying that it’s impossible, but for us we need to be pastored by others who have years of experience behind them.
We Trust Again: One of the easiest things to do when you’ve been lambasted by past hurts and pains are to not trust. It’s human nature, and I believe without an invitation for the Holy Spirit to show you these areas, you’ll live in isolation and loneliness. There was a missionary in China’s underground church who was interviewed about his ministry, which was the target of a lot of faith-based persecution. When asked about the most difficult part of his journey, he said it was the criticism from his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. The interviewer asked again, “Are you sure?” since the man had been physically beaten and tormented in ways you can’t imagine. The man said, “Yes, these pains are harder to heal from than the physical ones.”