How Jesus Nurtured A Sense of Belonging
Davina Adcock | June 26, 2019
It sounds intuitive, but in our fractured world where everyone and everything feels divided, it’s easy to forget Christ’s words in John 17:22,
“The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one.” (ESV)
Christ calls for unity in His Church—not surprising. A single-minded body of believers pursuing God’s glory and the advancement of His Kingdom is an effective powerhouse for evangelism, charity, and global transformation.
But Christ doesn’t just command us to be unified. While on earth, He showed us how to build communities knit together by a deep sense of belonging. Here are a few ways Christ nurtured connectedness to build the types of communities that continue to faithfully do the work of Kingdom-building.
Led by example
Jesus knew that none of the things He called His people to do were required of Him but they were required by Him. Yet, He followed His own commands to a T. He knew that people would firstly remember and follow the things He did while on earth, and have to be continually reminded of the things He said. So He led by example.
We see an instance of that in John 13:1-10 as Jesus washes His disciples’ feet. This act of humility and service was shocking to his followers. They were the ones who should have been going out and washing people’s feet in service to them. But when questioned about it, “Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.’”
He was saying: We’re in this together, just as you serve me, I will serve you and remind you all to serve each other. His example is poignant, surprising, consistent with the scriptures, and reemphasizes the truths we must all live by.
As a single body of believers, we are called to follow Christ’s example and thereby become unified in our actions, words, and motivations.
And when people see church leaders living by those same standards, while repenting of their failings, it encourages unity and obedience to the scriptures we all believe.
On the other hand, leaders who live contrary to the actions and words of Christ quickly divide churches and undermine the good work being done. In fact, staffers who unrepentantly reject Christ’s example tend to offend others and end up hurting people on their way out of their ministry.
And unity is hard to rebuild since people tend to lose trust in their church after experiencing a toxic leader.
Made sacrifices for His community
For three and a half years, Jesus led a thriving ministry. He traveled across Jordan, Judea, Jerusalem, and other cities teaching and preaching, which sounds like the basic definition of a good preacher. But he also did a lot more. He gave.
Jesus healed people, cast out demons, fed thousands, inspired, and convicted people. And for anyone who’s had several busy ministry weeks in a row, it’s clear how taxing that must have been on Jesus’ body, mind, and spirit. But while He did steal away to be alone and pray and encourages His followers to rest well and rest often, He always elevated the needs of the group above His own.
Because of that, He built a community of people who were deeply impacted by His work—people wouldn’t have been helped had Jesus decided to give up instead of giving more.
The same is true in the modern day Church. When church leaders truly commit their resources to the transformative work of ministry, people lives are changed.
For those whose needs are met, they slowly trust and commit to their local Church. Over time, this nurtures a sense of belonging, especially as leaders cross boundaries like class, race, disability, nationality, gender, and sexuality to serve those in need.
Not to mention, when leaders show up and show out in service to their community members, they help legitimize to the work of the Church and remind people that every pair of hands, every dollar, every bead of sweat contributes to the building of God’s Kingdom.
He invited people to participate in His mission
Jesus didn’t go it alone. Yes, He single-handedly secured salvation and eternal life for all who follow Him. But He also invited people to join in His Kingdom-building work. Not only do we see this clearly in the efforts of the 12 disciples, but many other times in the New Testament.
In Luke 10:1-24, Jesus appointed the 12 disciples and 72 others to go out into various towns to evangelize. But He didn’t just send them out, he sent them in pairs. This built community and belonging as people had to lean on and fully support their partner while evangelizing. This also encouraged training and support between the pairs as they embarked on something scary and new.
People never want to feel like a passive part of a group, especially if that group has an important purpose and mission. Group cohesiveness and morale quickly fall apart if members feel like they can’t contribute anything.
And they start asking the question: Why am I here if there’s nothing for me to do?
Jesus brought people together in small units, invited them to participate in His mission, and Luke 10:17 confirms that the 72 returned with joy in their hearts. They were closer. They were more connected. And they were a more formidable presence everywhere they went.
There are countless national and international groups doing ministry work right this moment, but not everyone will uproot their families to evangelize abroad. Some will send and support the goers. And while they stay behind, their leaders can encourage other ways they can join in the mission.
You know your congregation best. Maybe getting sports-savvy parents to start a sports ministry is the way to go. Maybe it’s giving retirees leadership roles in fundraising for special campaigns. Maybe it’ll mean training and inviting millennials to start mentoring their peers in work, school, and church.
Participation nurtures a sense of belonging—how your church fosters it will differ compared with the church across town, so get creative!
Following the example Jesus set, we encourage churches to use wisdom, empathy, and simple practices to nurture engagement and commitment within their communities. To learn more about how a four-part Nurture framework can drive unity, connection, and engagement within your ministry, click here to download the free Nurture Workbook.