Christina Fox received her Master’s Degree in Counseling from Palm Beach Atlantic University. She writes for a number of Christian ministries and publications including Desiring God and The Gospel Coalition. She is the author of A Heart Set Free: A Journey Through the Psalms of Lament and Closer Than a Sister: How Union with Christ helps Friendships to Flourish. You can find her at www.christinafox.com, @christinarfox and www.Facebook.com/
I shared in my book, Closer Than a Sister, that as I wrote it, I had to live out what I was writing while I wrote it. That's because when I first had the idea to write Closer Than a Sister, I was enjoying sweet community and fellowship with my church family. But it wasn't until a year or so later that I signed a contract to write it, and, in a twist of irony, I had moved away from that community. I basically wrote the book community-less.
To be honest, it's challenging to write about something you no longer have.
You might be in a similar place. Perhaps you've just moved to a new place and are seeking community. Perhaps you've been in a church for a while and still feel like a stranger there. Maybe everywhere you have been in recent years fails to match the community you experienced at some point in the past. Whatever your current situation, if you are longing for community, I wanted to share a few suggestions for cultivating community in your local church.
Before I share those ideas, I want to say that I am intentional in using the term "cultivate." We can't create Christian community; God already has. Through the blood of Christ shed for his people, God created the church. It is filled with redeemed brothers and sisters who are united to Christ and to each other for all eternity. So the community already exists. But like a seed buried in the soil, we need to nurture it to help it grow.
From Closer Than a Sister: “Ultimately, to cultivate friendship, we have to be a friend. We often look for others who will be a friend to us, but the place to start is to be a friend to others. Be the friend you desire to have.”
1. Pray: If you desire close Christian community, pray for it. Pray that God would bring you the people he desires in your life. Pray for opportunities to reach out and serve, to befriend others, and disciple someone else. Also, pray through all the twists and turns, ups and downs, and challenges you will likely encounter in friendship. Friendship and community is God's idea. He desires it for us. But it has to be rooted in him. Jesus has to be our friend first before we can be a friend to others. So abide in Christ through prayer through this process.
2. Participate: Participate in whatever your church currently offers. If they offer Bible studies, join one. If they have small groups which meet in other people's homes, attend one. If they have any fellowship opportunities, participate in them. The best way to know people is to be a part of what is happening in your church. You can't know others or be known by your church community when you slink into the last row just as the pastor begins the sermon and slide out right as he gives the benediction. Take advantage of any and every opportunity for fellowship and participation in the life of your church.
3. Purpose: Purpose to engage with other people. Be intentional. Seek out others who are in need and meet those needs. Call someone whom you know is struggling and invite them to coffee. Be watchful for those on the outside, for those who are new or who don't seem to fit in and get to know them. Don't wait for friendship to happen to you, be a friend to others.
4. Plan: Make intentional plans to develop community. For the longest time, my husband and I invited any new family who visited our church to share a meal with us. We made many great and lasting friends this way. Our home was like a revolving door; we always had people coming or going. We hosted small groups, Bible studies, parties, fellowship events, moms playgroups, and more in our home. And since moving to a new town, we've done the same thing. Plan to put something in the oven on a Sunday morning and invite a family from church over for lunch afterward. Choose a book and invite several people to read it with you. Meet together weekly or monthly to talk about it. Call a few other moms and invite them to meet at a park for the kids to play together. Consider starting a weekly play date with other moms.
Just as it takes time for a planted seed to grow and develop into a full and thriving plant, it takes time for friendship and community to grow. Deep friendships are built over time and often through shared trials and challenges of life. The longer we walk with someone in our journey of faith, the more we experience together and the deeper our friendship grows. But you have to start somewhere, so why not start where you are right now?
One of the joys of homeschooling my children includes teaching them the parts of our English language that, when strung together, make up a sentence. Both my boys memorized a list of prepositions in elementary school. Prepositions are important words because they help us understand the relationship between two things. Without them, many sentences wouldn't make sense. After all, what would "My pen fell under the table" be without the word "under"?
My youngest especially enjoyed learning prepositions when I gave him an activity. His favorite activity involved a small area rug in our school room. I had him stand "on" the rug. He stood "beside" the rug. He put his foot "over" the rug and "under" it. Best of all was when I asked him to roll himself up "in" the rug—like a burrito.
The word "in" is a preposition used throughout Paul's letters in the New Testament. This two letter word is part of a crucial doctrine for believers. Over and over, Paul teaches us that we are "in Christ." Being "in Christ" is a reference to our unity with Christ. When God the Son left the halls of heaven and wrapped himself in human flesh at the incarnation, he united himself to us in our humanity. He then lived the perfect life we could not live and died the death we deserved. Through the gift of faith, we are united to him in his life and death for us. Everything Christ did becomes ours.
I talk about union with Christ in my book, particularly in terms of what it means for us as believers to be united to one another through Christ. Today, I wanted to share some of the wonders of what it means that we are "in Christ."
*It began in eternity past when God chose us in Christ. “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” (Ephesians 1:4).
*In Christ, we have forgiveness. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace”(Ephesians 1:7).
*In Christ, we are sanctified. “To those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours” (1 Corinthians 1:2).
*In Christ, we have been given the Spirit. “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14).
*In Christ, we are new creations. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
*In Christ, we are loved. “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:23).
*In Christ, we are united with other members of the Body. “We, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:5).
*In Christ, we walk with Him. “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:6).
*In Christ, we have been raised. “And raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6).
*In Christ, we have peace. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
*In Christ, we have all we need. “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
*In Christ, we were made for good works. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
Being united to Christ, being "in Christ," is the basis for every benefit we have. It's fundamental to our faith and the Christian life. As I wrote in my book, Closer Than a Sister:
"In John 15, Jesus describes our union or connection to Him like that of a vine. ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing’ (vv. 1-6).
Only in union with Christ can we bear fruit. Only in union with Christ can we be His disciples. Only in union with Christ can we obey Him. Only in union with Christ can we do anything. Just as a branch receives its life and sustenance from the vine, we too receive our spiritual life and health from our union in Christ. We grow and bear fruit from the nutrients He provides. Our union with our Savior is our very life and breath. So then, if we are not united to Christ, we are not saved, we have no forgiveness, and no redemption. If we are not united to Him, we will not be sanctified or transformed into His likeness. If we are not united to Christ, resurrection from death is not ours. Apart from union with Christ, we are lost and without hope. Christ is everything; therefore, union with Him gives us everything"
When we understand this union, we realize its significance to our identity, to our growth in faith, to our sanctification, to our daily lives as believers. Take time today to dwell on the wonders of your union with Christ.
 Ryken, Philip Graham (Editor). The Communion of Saints: Living in Felowship with the People of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2001), p. 18.
It's here! I'm excited to share with you my new book, Closer Than a Sister: How Union with Christ helps Friendships to Flourish, is available now.
Closer Than a Sister is about friendship, but not just any friendship. It's about the relationships between women in the church. It's about sisterhood in Christ.
We often think of our friends as those people we would have chosen to be in our family, if we could have done so. Yet in the household of God, the friendships we have with one another are not of our own choosing. In fact, God himself has selected each person in the Body of Christ. Through our adoption into the family of God, the other believers in the church are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are united to Christ and to one another—for all eternity.
The relationship we have with other believers looks different than other friendships we might have. It's more than just having something in common. It goes deeper than talking about our week or what our kids are up to. Sisterhood in the church is about sharing a common life together: spiritual life. My book, Closer Than a Sister, describes what sisterhood in the church looks like and encourages readers to cultivate those relationships in the local church.
What does sisterhood look like?
From my book:
"Sharing a common life together is not about doing activities but about sharing life. Spiritual life. It is about working together to bring about God's Kingdom purposes. It is about serving together, helping each other through trials, lifting each other up when we fall, praying for one another, urging one another on in the faith. And ultimately, it is reflecting Christ in our love for one another, imaging Him to the fallen world around us." (p.55)
What others are saying about Closer Than a Sister:
"Christian friendship is to be sought and stewarded with wisdom and grace. you hold in your hands a primer on how to weave (and allow yourself to be woven into) that blessed tie that binds." —Jen Wilkin, author of Women of the Word and None Like Him
"Writing from years of intentional relationship-building, Christina Fox's words are wise and challenging. Fox lays out the priority of community, describes its beautiful contours, and gives her readers practical help to overcome its ever-present obstacles. Whether you read this book by yourself or with a group, your perspective on relationships in the church is sure to be enriched.” —Megan Hill, author Praying Together
“Christina Fox’s new book, Closer Than a Sister, is a welcome invitation to seek meaningful and life-giving relationships in the church. Fox helps us understand our need for community, the various ways we can support and encourage one another, and the challenges we face as we build fellowship with one another. Rather than attempting to survive on surface-level friendships, Closer Than a Sister shows us how to live in biblical community with one another.” —Melissa Kruger, author of The Envy of Eve and Walking with God in the Season of Motherhood
"As you read Christina’s book, you’ll be encouraged and along the way learn to be a true Christian friend and participant in your local church.” —Dave Jenkins, Executive Director, Servants of Grace Ministries, Executive Editor, Theology for Life Magazine, Co-Host, Equipping You in Grace Podcast
"Christina Fox has written a beautiful and helpful book outlining a biblical definition of friendship, bringing in the familial language of scripture ("sister-friend"), showing us the Bible's definition of friendship, and pointing us towards the one Friend who will never leave us or forsake us. If you want to become a better "sister-friend" or find yourself longing for a friend, this book will encourage your soul." —Courtney Reissig, author Glory in the Ordinary
“Closer than a Sister skillfully blends the glorious life-giving colors with the lackluster life-taking contrasts into a vivid portrait of gospel friendship. Every stroke is saturated with scripture with its aim towards gospel-centered application. And the real beauty of this book is the Jesus Christ is the centerpiece of what it truly means to live out the content of the covenant in the context of covenantal community.” —Karen Hodge, PCA Coordinator of Women’s Ministry; author of Transformed: Life-taker to Life-giver
"Here's a book that will encourage you in the beauty of Christ-centered relationships, and challenge you to take faith-driven steps of love in friend-ing others. Closer Than a Sister comforted me with the depths of Jesus' friendship for me, and compelled me outward with a renewed desire to be a godly friend to others.” —Ellen Mary Dykas, Women's Ministry Director, Harvest USA; Author, Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual and Relational Brokenness and Sex and the Single Girl: Smart Ways to Care for Your Heart
"Christina Fox has done us an enormous service by wedding a sound biblical theology of union with Christ to a sound biblical theology of fellowship--particularly as it relates to women in the church. In Closer than a Sister, Christina has done the hard work of laying the landscape while bringing the reader through all of the attendant obstacles that lead out to the green pastures of friendship building, maintaining, equipping and serving. This book is a timely, sound and engaging work from which any in the church may profit.” —Rev. Nick Batzig, Pastor of New Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Richmond Hill, GA and editor of Reformation 21, an online theological site of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.
"In Closer than a Sister, Christina Fox has painted a picture of biblical, God-honoring relationships among women in the church. She has then used that picture as a template to suggest how women can, because they are in union with Christ, live out this picture practically and by faith. Her honesty, transparency, and centeredness in God’s Word make this a helpful read." —Chris Larson, President and CEO of Ligonier Ministries