FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–As “Friends” went off the air for the last time, I found myself wondering why that show was so popular for so long.
The fact that the main characters look like fashion models did not hurt ratings. The hip clothing and hairstyles surely did not repel many would-be viewers. And even I, the show’s most virulent critic, had to admit that (it hurts me to say it) sometimes Friends was funny.
But dozens of network sitcoms feature nothing but “beautiful people” with perfect hair and clothes. And other shows could be just as funny at times. Besides, the characters were morally bankrupt, adrift in life, self-obsessed and neurotic. Pursuit of pleasure was the only ethic that counted with them. Why did America grow to love them?
The only answer I could think of was the one element that came out most clearly in the series finale: the characters genuinely cared about each other.
Those of us who are blessed to live in authentic Christian community all too easily forget how lonely a place the world is without Christ. Millions of people turned on Friends every Thursday night to see what life is like with not one or two but five best friends.
The tragic thing is that those people turned to the pagan culture rather than going to the church.
In the search for individual freedom and autonomy, many Christians have inadvertently abandoned the biblical idea of community. We are competent and responsible before God for how we respond to His grace and, just as importantly, we will give an account for how we treated those around us, as Jesus said in Matthew 25.
Building biblical community should be one of the primary goals for Christian leaders for three reasons: first, it is commanded in the Scriptures (1 Peter 2:17); second, the lost are dying for it; and finally, true Christian discipleship demands it.
We live in a shallow, self-centered age in which the enemy has convinced most people that the way to happiness -– a cheap substitute for joy -– is to fulfill each of their own desires. So people seek out a myriad of devices, whether it’s achievement or food or drugs or exercise or the Internet, so that they can satisfy their desires and thus feel happy.
But when they have what they want, something is still missing, and they think it is human contact. That’s when something like Friends comes in handy. Sure, it’s a cheap imitation, but it’s better than nothing.
Christians know that what these people really need is not human contact but divine contact -– to meet Jesus Christ and experience His life-changing power. But because too often we do not consciously heed God’s command to love the brotherhood, many immature Christians fall into the same trap of seeking fulfillment in something of this world because their need for connection with other people is not being met in their family or the local church.
The biblical model is not for someone to spend two hours a day in prayer and then go out as a lone wolf into the world. Instead, the people of God always exist in community so that they can support, encourage, rebuke and love each other in the face of the opposition which the world always brings against them.
If churches were to make building community as important as building buildings, the impact on this world would be electric. In a disconnected, relativistic age, there are few greater evangelistic tools than a group of people who, for no reason other than their shared love of Christ, care for each other.
Samuel Smith is a student and news writer at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.