I realized something. I’ve never seen my back – in person. I mean I’ve seen some of my back in a mirror, but I haven’t ever seen, with my own eyes, my back. And yet it’s a large part of who I am. I guess that’s where we get the expression, “I’ve got your back!” Since we can’t see our back or the things that face our back, we need someone else – someone we can trust – to watch out for it.
In our desire to grow Christ-like, we need people who will watch our “spiritual” backs; people who will tell us the truth about things we cannot see about ourselves, as well as people who can encourage us in the tough pilgrimage in Christ. In our church we call this “Authentic Community.” This is hard because we live in a highly individualized culture, where it’s a “dog-eat-dog” world and we are trained to be self-reliant. But wise people understand that we cannot progress very far in our pilgrimage towards Christ-likeness without others.
There are three things we need to have authentic community that fosters spiritual growth:
1. We need to be “safe” people. It is difficult to be honest, transparent, and authentic if the people we share with are going to attack us, embarrass us, or use the information against us (like gossip or slander). “Safe” means we can trust them with our authenticity and they can trust us. We hold to confidentiality. We accept each other where we are.
2. We need to “speak the truth in love” with each other. This is the flip-side of being safe. If there is something wrong, we need to tell each other the truth, out of love. We can’t see our “backs.” We sometimes don’t know when we have bad breath or whether we crossed a line or whether we acted selfishly. Authentic community serves as a “mirror” to help us see the things that we say or do we can’t see on our own, so that we don’t hurt ourselves or others. As Proverbs 27:6 says, “The wounds of a friend can be trusted.”
3. We have a common commitment to Jesus Christ. What knits us together, more than affinity or common interests or personal friendship, is Jesus Christ being our common Lord. His way sets the standard of how we relate, support, care for, encourage, warn, and confront. If we don’t have this in common, it is extremely difficult to engage in authentic community that promotes spiritual growth. This is why Paul warned the Corinthians not to be “unequally yoked with unbelievers” (2 Cor 6:14). This doesn’t mean we can’t be friends with unbelievers, but it does mean that our most intimate relationships (our authentic community: spouse, mentors, and closest friends) need to be heading in the same direction we are.
My authentic community consists of my wife and a few very close friends. I meet with them regularly. I share honestly with them, and they with me. Although they are very supportive of me, they will call me to the carpet when they see me heading down the “lesser paths” of selfishness, temptation, fear, and compromise. They have permission to ask me hard questions. And I am so thankful to God for each of them. Truly, I would be lost in self-delusion, phoniness, and duplicity without them.
Too many Christians try to walk “the Walk” alone. As a result, no one knows who they really are. They are not “known,” nor is there someone that they “know.” As a result, they walk in circles – never progressing forward because they can’t see themselves honestly. And the real tragedy is that there are people out there who can watch their back, and people who need them to watch theirs. But the connection is never made. And Satan laughs because he doesn’t have to work very hard with these Christians.
Authentic community is risky at times. Sometimes it’s hard. And it takes a lot of work. But, like the other spiritual habits, it sets you free. Free to be more like Jesus – authentically.
So, who’s got your back?