cultivating church community: what it means to slow down and show up
One by one, they stood silently, then made their way over to the small line forming at the left side of the room. It was Sunday morning, and our retreat speaker had invited us up to the microphone to share how God had been working in our hearts over the course of the weekend.
Relatively new to this young adult group, but long-timer at the church that housed it, I was enjoying hearing from each person. The Spirit of God was at work, stirring hearts to speak life into others. Some relayed personal revelations while others recited Scripture, either for the group as a whole or for an individual. Brief summaries were shared of breakthroughs made and insights gleaned, and from the safety of my seat on the far side of the room I thought to myself, “This is beautiful.”
I imagined it must be nerve-wracking to share, but I wasn’t the one sharing, so didn’t think much of it. I was content to simply sit and receive.
That is, until Matt took the stage. Not only was Matt new to our young adult ministry, Soma, he was new to Jesus. As he expressed what it meant to him to be a part of such an accepting community and to experience the freedom and fulfillment Jesus brings, each word he spoke dripped with gratitude and awe. Through his eyes, I was encountering anew the wonder of God’s love, one that seeks us out and scoops us up into His heart to bring healing and wholeness.
Noticing the yellow name tag hanging from his neck, I read the words “Matt Williams.” I remembered having noticed his name earlier in the weekend—it immediately made me think of a professor I had at Biola by the same name, one who’d made a meaningful impact on my life. At a time when I needed it most, Dr. Williams helped me understand the tenderness and gentleness of Jesus toward our areas of hurt and shame, because he himself embodied those qualities and extended them—lovingly and lavishly. He’d done so for countless students. As I listened to this new Matt Williams speak, I couldn't help but think the two shared more than just a name. Here I was, being moved to tears by the beauty of Jesus’ tenderness and gentleness towards me, through the words of someone I barely knew.
He is going to be like Dr. Matt Williams.
The thought popped unsuspectingly into my mind.
His story is going to help people encounter Jesus’ tender love, and experience His gentle healing touch.
The thought grew stronger.
Tell him that, came another.
I began to panic and push away the thought. I was supposed to tell someone I barely knew that, like my old professor of the same name who he didn’t know, he was going to impact lives and help people experience the tenderness and gentleness of Jesus? Who was I to say that? How did I even know it was God telling me that?
I tried to put it out of my head, but the thought only grew stronger; and I realized in that moment I had a choice: I could continue to admire those who stood, and enjoy the things they shared, or I could show up. I could let fear win, or I could be obedient to follow God’s prompting, even at the risk of sounding weird.
Was I brave enough to make the move from observer, to participant?
Heart pounding, hands shaking, eyes watering, I stood up. I made my way to the microphone, and I told Matt Williams what God had told me.
Oftentimes in the context of church, it’s easy to observe but not participate—to consume, but not contribute. For a long time, that’s exactly what I did. For me, it was easier to slather on a smile, shake hands and say the right thing, than it was to let myself be seen. It was easier to do myself up because maybe if I looked okay on the outside, people wouldn’t know I wasn’t okay on the inside. Maybe they wouldn’t see that my heart was hurting because of that boy, or that I was stressed out about the decision that’d been weighing on me, or that a vicious cycle of comparison had left me feeling less than.
I think that too often, people walk into church doors with deep hurts in their heart, and exit out the same doors a few hours later with no one ever the wiser.
We hide behind observing, because it’s safer than engaging. We move in and out so focused on getting where we need to go that in the hurry, we miss an opportunity to see—the person that’s hurting, the one in need of prayer or a hug. Unless we slow down, we will not see.
Whether in neglecting to slow down or for fear of letting a front down, I’ve missed plenty of those opportunities—both to minister and to be ministered to. But slowly, God is changing me. He’s teaching me to experience community as He intended it to be. At the core, what I’m learning is this: slow down and show up.
The Soma Young Adult Retreat through my church last weekend was incredible, and during those three days I experienced community in a way I don’t know that I ever have before. As people continued to step up to the microphone Sunday morning, something beautiful happened in that room. People shared dreams and verses and confessions and visions and encouraging words. People shared pain and heartbreaking stories, only to be met with the response of others surrounding them, sharing in their tears, holding them, and declaring God’s words of life. The women prayed over the men, the men prayed over the women, together we prayed over our incredible leaders Buz and Tara. You could sense the presence of the Holy Spirit so strongly in that room, and we were all being filled to the brim with HOPE.
The type of connection we were all created to yearn for was experienced in that room because courageous people decided to slow down and show up.
Slowing down is stepping out of our hustle and bustle long enough to connect. Simply put, the heart stuff doesn’t fit into the sliver of space between, “Hi, how are you?” and the brushing of shoulders as the one asking and the one being asked fail to stop and create space for anything more significant than, “Good, and you?”
Showing up is allowing yourself to be seen—moving from observer to participant. It’s courage, defined by researcher and storyteller Brené Brown as, “telling the story of who you are with your whole heart.” Shame tells us to keep some parts hidden, but the only parts that will ever receive love are the parts we reveal.
Connection requires risk.
It goes against our momentum and our nature to slow down and show up, but it’s the only way we’ll experience the belonging and connection we all yearn for so deeply.
God created community to be a place where brokenness is shared, pain is held, vulnerability is rediscovered, life is spoken, chains are broken, and belonging is found. So together, may we risk—may we present ALL of who we are, because each one of us is NEEDED. Your word of encouragement when you think it’s weird, is needed. Your thoughts when you think no one would understand, are needed. Your vision or dream when it feels vulnerable, is needed. Your story, even whispered through shaking sobs, is needed. All of who YOU are, is NEEDED.
When we can slow down and show up, we allow the BEAUTY of JESUS to radiate from our broken pieces like a masterfully crafted mosaic.
After Sunday’s service was over, I was told that the words God had given me to speak had been the exact words Matt Williams was needing to hear.
May we risk together.
P.S. If you are a Bay Area 20-30something looking for community, come join us on Sunday nights at Soma!