Just as I Am (4): Helping Others Grow More Secure in Church Community Life

by | Church Communication, Leadership

Did you ever stop to think about it?   The quality of our church community has a profound impact on the individuals we minister to.  Securely attached communities will shape the internal world of church members, their spiritual formation, and, over time, the way they relate to their families.

“Our character is shaped more by whom we love than what we believe.”–  Dr. Jim Wilder.

We don’t want to simply create followers of a belief system or Christian worldview.  Jesus wanted much more for us, and He knew that love would be the bedrock for our faith.  He directly transferred to us the responsibility for showing love.

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.–  John 13:34 (NLT).

Making disciples of all nations involves much more than merely converting people.  It requires us to relate, share, and fellowship as one loving healthy family under the example of Christ.  The truth is that “loving one another” is difficult, especially if we ourselves have not internalized enough strength and security to help us when relationships get difficult.  Attachment provides the map for us to understand what the ingredients are which provide people with the tangible experience of love.  Attachment also helps us understand our own growing edges when it comes to being secure and steadfast in the middle of relationship pain.

In our first 3 blogs of this four-part series, we have learned about the importance of understanding our Attachment Styles.   We have discussed ways that we can personally grow towards Attachment Security.

We must grow in our own understanding and process of experiencing Secure Attachment before we can give it away to others.  Secure attachment means that I can turn to trusted others in a vulnerable way when I am in need; this is called Safe Haven.  It also means that I have the settled confidence to branch out and explore my inner world and the paths that God has set before me; this is the principle of Secure Base.  Securely attached people create this same safety and settled confidence for the people who depend upon them.  Now let’s turn our focus towards specific postures we can assume to help others grow in security. 

Leaders Set the Stage with Humility. 

Leaders in particular must be diligent to pursue emotional and spiritual maturity.  Church communities will only go as far as the leaders themselves have gone in the journey towards secure attachment and an emotionally healthy life.

“As go the leaders, so goes the church.” —Pastor Peter Scazerro. 

Christian leaders, no matter what their personality or gift set, must exemplify a mature love to their followers.   They are called to be servant leaders, just like Jesus.

“…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28, NASB).

Leaders need to be shepherds who comfort, guide, and direct our sheep.  No matter what their roles are within the church, they must lead in a spirit of humility.  Leaders who care very little about prestige or recognition, are truly free to serve.  

Followers will sense the safety that a humble leader creates, knowing that the primary motivation of their leader is the emotional and spiritual growth of the flock. Followers will feel safe, knowing that leaders are advancing the kingdom of heaven instead of their own personal kingdoms.  

From an Attachment perspective, secure leaders are not habitually engrossed in protest behaviors with their flock. When a secure leader does need to confront a situation, it is for the good and growth of the person confronted and not about the need of the leader for more attention.

Secure leaders will model humility through a willingness to take ownership of mistakes and through vulnerable sharing about themselves.  Leaders can be intentional about creating moments of self-disclosure in their messages to others. They can share publicly in vulnerable ways, admitting to growth areas and modeling acceptance of shortcomings. This shows their own humanness, while also modeling a dependence on Jesus for their weaknesses. Jesus said,

“My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”  2 Corinthians 12:9, NKJV)

Leaders Model a Fearless Love

Secure leaders demonstrate courage in facing the many varieties of fear that can surface in their internal worlds. They do this without bravado or pompous displays.  Gentleness and peace are the greatest markers of internal strength.

These leaders have faced the fear of shortcomings and inadequacy by confessing their insufficiency, as they openly rely on Christ’s sufficiency. This is the fundamental building block of Christian faith, and this is where true strength comes from. 

Leaders have entrusted their very lives into Christ’s care.  Jesus gave His life for us so that we would not live under the fear of death.   Jesus took care of that, once and for all. 

“Oh death, where is your victory.  Oh death, where is your sting?”  (I Corinthians 15:55; ESV)

When their minds are truly renewed with this awareness, leaders can set aside reliance on survival instincts, hindrances, and the sin that so easily entangles (Hebrews 12:1).

Perhaps one of the greatest fears that leaders face is getting in touch with the pain of losses they have experienced in their personal lives.  Life is full of loss.  Honestly, from the moment that we are born we are simultaneously facing the gifts of today along with the losses of time and relationships passing.  We attach to others, and we also know that on this side of heaven we will lose many of the people that we love.  We care for our bodies, but we also experience their decay as we move forward on this mortal earth.

Courageous leaders have been through seasons of loss, have acknowledged their own frailty, and have completed grieving in order to find the depth of new hope in Christ for their future.

     You have to go through death and loss in order to experience the joy of resurrection. 

Attempts to race forward beyond the struggles of sorrow and the tribulations of suffering will short-circuit the growth and the building of Christlike character in our souls.  Also, parishioners will perceive leaders who are too anxious about being present to their sufferings and sorrows.  They will not feel safe to go deeper with such avoidant leaders.  I am so thankful that our Fearless Leader was not avoidant, for He was:

“a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief” (Isaiah 53:3; NLT).

Leaders who struggle in facing their own grieving can rely upon the One who has gone before them.  He can strengthen them in this most important arena.   We know that His perfect love casts out all fear (I John 4:18)

Creating Community Spaces for Connection

As a family of believers, we have so many ways to grow together and love one another.  Since the days of the early church we have traditions of joining together for meals, times of singing, times of prayer, laying hands on one another, learning about Jesus, and inviting others to belong to our loving family (Acts 2:41-47).

So much of this mimics what a healthy family does together on a regular basis.   From an Attachment standpoint, these are the things that we do for our children to help them grow.

All of us function at our best when we know that we are seen, held, and heard by others who are committed to us.  This is the essence of Attachment, demonstrating to us that we are not alone.

Research shows that the optimal conditions for human growth take place when we are free from threats or the activation of our fear responses.   Further studies have shown that wise and high-level thinking parts of our mind are activated by love for another person.  This includes parts of the brain associated with conceptual thinking, metaphorical language, and abstract representations of the self.  Love is not merely a feeling, but it is also a way of thinking.

Church can be a place where we learn and grow on the very best foundation, which is the love of Christ and our love for one another.   Here are some practical ways to incorporate these growth frameworks and rituals into the family life of the church.  Many of them are already in place in the local church, and I invite you to consider them through the Attachment lens in order to deepen their effectiveness. 

Singing Together.   It’s not just the faithful words we sing, it is the very act itself of joining in chorus with other believers which builds a sense of community and belonging.  I firmly believe that God inhabits the praises of His people (Psalm 22:3).  And we grow more secure every time we sing aloud about how wonderful our Father is and how great His love is for us.

Praying for One Another.   There can be so much vulnerability and safety in prayer when it is done in a Secure manner.  As we share our needs, we can experience our family members’ caring for us and witness them bringing our concerns straight to the Head of our family.  We can speak our emotional and physical needs, which allows us to be known.  We know that others are standing with us.

Laying on of Hands.  The early church used touch as part of their way of praying for healing.  They also used physical affection during greetings (Romans 16:16).   Of course, there have to be appropriate boundaries with touch in church.  No person should be asked to go beyond levels of physical proximity that they are uncomfortable with.  Men in particular must be very sensitive to how they exchange touch with women and children.  However, touch is integral to human Attachment, and it is an important part of building secure communities. 

Visitation in Times of Need.   Nothing speaks more powerfully to parishioners than the tangible love of Christian leaders or designated volunteers during times of crisis.  When church leaders come to the hospital, bedside, or to the home of struggling members during dire moments, it provides such tangible comfort.  Parishioners know that they are not alone.  They experience the incarnational presence of Jesus in their moments of great need.  This is the gift of Safe Haven from an Attachment standpoint. 

Playing Together.  There are countless ways that we can play, both as adults and children.  Remember that play is part of what builds the Attachment bond when we are young.  Play allows us to take measured risks, build trust, and learn to synchronize as a team.  Don’t forget that a church picnic, with ball games or relays is a vital part of building community.  Knitting groups, art and drawing times, and skits are all ways that we can grow community.

Interactive Learning.   I love large group gatherings at church.  Yet there is something priceless about coming together in smaller groups where you can interact and spread your wings with new things that you are learning.  Leaders should create spaces where all members can take turns in reflecting upon and asking questions about things they are learning in their Christian journey.  It will be important to set framework so that members don’t interrupt, dominate, or judge what others are sharing.  All of this allows us to grow the Secure Base side of Attachment through exploration.  Many of us can also step forward in growing our spiritual gifts of teaching and encouraging in these contexts. 

Small Groups.  Along with settings where we can learn new truths and grow our beliefs, we need spaces to engage our hearts.   We need small groups where people can say how they are really doing that week.  These are important spaces to practice vulnerable sharing, talking about struggles, doubts, sorrows, or fears.  It gives us the chance to provide comfort and Safe Haven to one another.  We can also practice growing in our spiritual gifts of encouragement.   Small groups can have an organizing theme, such as a Bible study, Christian book, or parenting curriculum.  They can also be informally structured.  It’s important that space is made for sharing, valuing, and standing with one another in prayer.  

In small groups and interactive learning groups, Secure Attachment can be facilitated by a leader overseeing the process who is comfortable with making space for all.  Leaders can be Attachment informed, knowing that they will need to gently draw out Avoiders.  They need to be prepared to set any needed limits with people who might be monopolizing, such as Protesters who have chronic fears of abandonment or not getting enough.  Like a good parent, Secure leaders will let group members know that they are attentive and wise, for they see the specific needs of group members.  They are kind in the ways that they address those needs, and they are strong enough to create environments where vulnerability is the means for being known.

Secure communities focus on the abundant life we have in Christ which is filled with righteousness, peace, and joy.  This is the opposite of a scarcity mentality, which is driven by fear.

Ultimately, these are environments where believers know that they are loved in very tangible ways.  These are places where all believers are growing in taking risks and giving away the love that they have received.

Jesus called us, redeemed us, and made us His own.   He sends us out into the world to be His hands and feet.  Our Secure communities foster the love and safety that we need to launch and serve.  It is for all these reasons that the author of Hebrews instructed us to “not forsake the assembling of yourselves together” (Hebrews 10:25).   God wants us to dwell and remain in healthy community.

May God bless you as you grow more secure in your relationship with Him and guide others into places of Security.  You can learn more about Secure Attachment in marriage, parenting, and clergy care at facetofaceliving.com

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