Sooner or later every person experiences the pain of not belonging. Some learn it early in life, feeling isolated during kindergarten naptime or on the playground when they get picked last as kids choose sides for a game. I (Russ) faced it during high school. Until then, I’d spent my whole life in the same safe school system, church, and neighborhood. I knew most everybody I crossed paths with each day, and they knew me. I belonged, and I never knew what it felt like not to belong.
All that changed dramatically when my family moved from Minnesota to Colorado in the summer of 1971. Suddenly, with little preparation, I was in a strange place where I didn’t know anybody.
Being a shy kid, I didn’t make new friends very easily. Even when I started to get to know people, they all knew each other already. They belonged, but I didn’t.
Things got worse when we moved again in the summer of 1973.A new high school and a new town, plus adolescent angst, pushed me into isolation. I barely spoke a word for the first six weeks of school, cloistering myself in the library, so any sense of belonging was out of reach. I hated being alone but lacked the wherewithal to even try. If an extroverted girl hadn’t forced me to talk to her and some friends, I might still be ensconced among the books at that high school. I eventually escaped the library but never lost the feeling of what it’s like to not belong.
Given my current occupation, I now know God brought isolation into my life so that I’d understand the pain of others who don’t belong. The key to assimilation is meeting people at the point of their desire to belong. Assimilation is not merely about growing a small group ministry or designing systems to mobilize and connect the masses; it means wanting to provide people a place to belong, a chance for community.
Donahue, B., & Robinson, R., Willow Creek Association. (2009). The seven deadly sins of small group ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
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