I’m excited to introduce you to my friend Christin Nevins. Christin is passionate about teaching, ministering to women, and leading retreats. She’s got some great insights to share about the discipline of fellowship, so keep on reading (and leave a comment to join in on this thought-provoking conversation) . . .
Christin, tell my readers a bit about yourself.
I’m a wife and mom — married to my husband Adam for 12 years. We have 2 daughters and a son. We’ve had the joy of adopting our son from India and have raised our family in an inner-city Indianapolis neighborhood for the last 8 years. Common Ground Christian Church is our church home. I’ve been passionate about ministering to women — inviting and equipping them to live into all that God dreams for them — for a long time. It’s a joy to be a guest on your blog, Kelli. Thanks for the invitation!
Community is a buzz word in some Christian circles. We’re challenged to practice “authentic community” — but sometimes, I think, idealized versions of community clash with reality. Community can be messy! And we also have legitimate needs for privacy, for family time, and so on. How would you define what it means to live in community — to practice the discipline of fellowship?
Unity is where fellowship or community starts. Maintaining unity is also probably the hardest part of living in community over the long haul. When we join our lives with others trying to love God and love people, it sounds so easy and good, but we all have our own ideas and understanding about how to live that out. Combining lives with other broken, messy people (as we all are!) also exposes our sinful nature which is the biggest challenge to living in unity. We see that throughout the Bible and throughout the church today.
The second big element of community is love. Not mushy love, but loving people the way God loves them. Love that sees past the brokenness to the potential hidden inside. Love that “casts out fear” and creates a safe place to be authentic. Love that tells the truth for the sake of transformation. Love that makes me look hard at myself to ask how I’m contributing to or damaging the group. This is where 1 Corinthians 13 — the “Love Chapter” — really comes to life.
Do you think there are limits one should place on practicing community? If so, where do you think it’s important to “draw the line”?
Jesus is the ultimate model of community in that he gave radically. He gave of his physical presence, he gave relationally, he gave his gifts and knowledge, and, ultimately, he laid down his life for his friends. But he had to “draw out of the well” of his relationship with the Father to be able to give so much. This meant he had time alone with his Father to refresh, fill up, and gain clarity on the next steps. This meant he moved away from the crowd sometimes and just spent time with his closest friends. This meant he was less transparent with some people and much more transparent and vulnerable with others. He poured himself into the lives of people in different ways. In that sense, I think Jesus gives us a balanced model for living in community. We should be giving radically to the people in our lives, but that will look different for each of us. And it will vary based on the season of our lives. For example, an empty nester and a new mom’s time, energy, and target community will be very different.
As part of your own spiritual journey as well as in the retreats you lead, you explore what it is to practice “solitude” as a Christian discipline. Why is solitude important — and how can solitude and fellowship complement each other in a Christian’s life? Why do we need both?
The spiritual practice of solitude allows us to refuel our souls and refresh our minds and bodies in God’s presence. It can also allow us to gain perspective or work through issues that we don’t have time to process in the business of life. Rest, reflection, journaling, and just being in God’s presence with no other demands on us allow us to decompress and notice what’s going on inside our souls. Throughout the Bible we see that solitude leads to spiritual transformation and clarity of direction.
We are made to be in relationship and to pour into the lives of others. But the truth is, we can’t do that if we don’t have anything to give! Practicing solitude can refresh us and help us be the mother (or parent), wife (or spouse), friend, co-worker that we want to be. Our relationships can benefit when we are refueled by God’s presence.
You were one of the mom-friends who shared thoughts with me as I wrote The Busy Mom’s Guide to Spiritual Survival. Here’s something you told me at that time: “My practice of Christian disciplines can’t happen apart from community and community includes my children. They show me my weaknesses, they show me what child-like faith looks like. They pray for me and with me and are a part of every joy and sorrow I experience.”
I still love this insight, Christin — that for moms, time with our kids is part of practicing community. Now that a few years have passed, what else might you want to say about that? How has God used “fellowship” with your children to grow and shape you?
One of my biggest struggles recently was perfectionism. I felt like I was failing my family if I wasn’t the perfect mom and wife. I was starting to spiral into self-condemnation and crushing guilt when I had a conversation with my middle daughter at bedtime one night. She’d made a mistake in class and had been called out in front of everyone. She felt so badly and didn’t want to go back to school–thinking no one would like her since she made a mistake. We talked about how teachers make mistakes and we still love them; how I make mistakes and she still loves me. She wouldn’t want me to stop being her mom just because I made mistakes. As I was saying those words to her she wrapped her arms around my neck. It felt like the arms of God and I had this realization that if I was the “perfect” mom, my kids would feel like perfection was the only option for them, too. Helping Emily to see that it’s still possible to deeply love an imperfect person made it safe for her to be imperfect and know she’s loved. I felt like God broke through to my heart in that moment and my daughter’s love and acceptance ministered healing to my soul in a way no one else could.
Periods of loneliness are part of the human experience — and the Bible affirms this reality. Fellowship with others can alleviate this loneliness in some ways, but I’d assert that it can never fully be eradicated from our lives because ultimately we long for a deep connection with God that isn’t fully possible on this earth. Do you agree? How can both fellowship and it’s counterpart loneliness drive us to God? When have you experienced this?
Yes, I agree. I see loneliness like a growling stomach. When we realize we’re hungry, it doesn’t mean our previous meal failed us, it means it’s time to consider how to nourish ourselves again. Eating junk food is like shallow relationships. It drowns the hunger but doesn’t last long and isn’t really good for us. Eating healthy food takes a little more time, investment and thought, but it’s worth the work. Loneliness reminds us that our souls will never be fully satisfied until heaven. Like the Psalmists, we should turn that longing and loneliness into a cry for God to meet us, hear us, and satisfy the deepest places in our soul. We should also have reasonable expectations of people. They’re human. They’re limited in knowledge and capacity to meet our needs. God can certainly work in and through people in our community, but people are not a replacement for God.
It sounds obvious, but it’s an easy mistake to make. Often, I hear people say, “the church failed me” or “my community wasn’t there for me.” At times, we expect people to be a replacement for the Holy Spirit. Only God can be with you every moment. Only God can meet our deepest needs. Only God can give us the power to overcome temptation or to heal our brokenness. Anytime we look to people to do those things, we’ll be disappointed.
Any other encouragement you want to offer us when it comes to fellowship?
We need to remember that effectively living in community — the practice of fellowship — is not just a spiritual practice. It’s also a learned skill. Communication, problem-solving, addressing conflict, planning as a group and bringing out the best in others are skills one can learn. God’s Word gives us clear guidance on what to do and not to do as we live in fellowship with other believers. But developing those skills — knowing the right thing to do and say at the right moment — takes time and practice. I’d encourage all of us to become students of healthy relationships and make it a priority to get better at the skills it takes to live in community. The payoff for those within our community and those who are seeking a relationship with God is profound!