“Better is a neighbor nearby than a brother far away.” I’ve found that verse from Proverbs to be true throughout my life. It’s especially good to remember when you’re young and move away from home for the first time. I grew up here in Destin with lots of family around and and when I got married and had our first kid, we had a built-in support system here.

But about a year and a half into our marriage I was offered a job in a sail-making loft in the Cocoa Beach area. We packed up and left our hometown with family and a tight knit community to a city where we didn’t know anyone. We were both in our early 20s and didn’t always know what we were doing, but luckily we found a really great church soon after we moved there. We soon had a community around us that was supportive and helped us get through a lot of ups and downs that new families go through.

Not long after we had moved to the area I ended up losing my job. We were faced with a choice: we could move to a different city where my skills would be more in demand, or we could stay there and I would have to find a new line of work. We ended up staying because of the amazing community of people we had gotten involved with in our local church.

Ultimately we stayed in that community for another 17 years. It was there that I found my calling and became a pastor at that church. My direction, and my family's, was ultimately changed for the better because of the relationships we developed. That life shift had little to do with church attendance. Our involvement wasn’t showing up to Sunday service every week, it was the people there that welcomed us to have meals with them in their homes, sat and had coffee with us and were there to help when the unexpected happened.

It’s easy to get caught up in church attendance. It seems like that’s what our church culture has emphasized in the modern era, that what matters is whether or not you attend church regularly. In fact, if you are a “church-goer” you might feel guilty if you miss a Sunday. But in the early church it had little to do with attendance and everything to do with attachment. In the first century the local church was less of an organization and more of an organism. It was a living and breathing group of people that met in homes, shared meals and did everything they could to meet the needs of their community. There was no “show up and attend” mentality that is easy to fall into now. That’s because they thought of the church in a completely different way. The church wasn’t a building, a ministry or clergy. The church was them.

In Hebrews 10:24, the Apostle Paul encouraged the early church this way: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”

The way Paul chose his words is important. He asks the church to spur, or encourage, one another. It makes being part of a church body an active role, not a passive one. It takes more than one person at the top telling the others how to live. It’s about forming relationships with people and growing together.

The truth is there’s just too much that needs to happen to not get involved. As a pastor, there’s really only a handful of people that I can pour into in a meaningful way. A couple of years ago I was visiting my daughter who lives in Australia. About half way into the trip I found out that a woman in our church had lost her husband. As a pastor I felt so helpless that while one of our church members needed to be cared for that I was on the other side of the world and couldn’t be there. But, you better believe that countless others stepped up and cared for and grieved alongside her. She had friends by her side in one of the hardest times of her life because our church’s mission goes so much further than my own reach.

Life was meant to be lived in circles, not in rows.

Pastor Eric Partin is the lead pastor of Shoreline Church in Destin and can be reached at ericpartin@shorelinechurch.net.