Find Your Tribe and Learn to Thrive

Part 1 of an Interview with Amberly Neese,
Author of The Belonging Project

The pursuit of what the world perceives as the “perfect life” leaves us feeling depleted, disappointed, dissatisfied, and disconnected. If we would be open and honest with those around us, we would discover we are not the only ones tired of being lonely and left out at work, home, church, and online. God created each and every one of us with a hunger for true community, deeper connection with him, and friendships that are greater than “likes” on social media.

As she was touring the nation, speaker and comedian Amberly Neese found this sense of loneliness and disconnect to be present for women across the board—single or married, rich or poor, with or without children. That is the reason she set out to write The Belonging Project: Finding Your Tribe and Learning to Thrive. In this four-week study, Neese provides biblical and practical help for cultivating meaningful relationships that glorify God through an examination of the many “one another” scriptures throughout the New Testament. She groups more than fifty of them into themes in order to lead readers on an exploration of how to love, serve, build up, strengthen and forgive one another.

Q: Tell us a little bit about the central theme of your new Bible study, The Belonging Project.

The Belonging Project is the exploration of the New Testament as it pertains to biblical community. God has designed us to live in mutually beneficial relationships and has given us the blueprints to do so in His Word. This four-week study is designed to encourage, empower, and equip participants to thrive in the community to which God has called us.

I started writing The Belonging Project because as I toured the nation speaking and doing comedy, I just kept hearing women say that they were lonely. Single or married, rich or poor, with a zip code of kids or not, women are feeling disconnected and depleted. Technology has provided us a million opportunities to “see” into the lives of others, but it seems we are actually IN one another’s lives so much less.

To address some of those issues, I explored the more than fifty uses of the term “one another” in the New Testament. Phrases such as “love one another,” “pray for one another,” and “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” are incredible puzzle pieces in the full picture of what biblical community is designed to look like.

Q: Why is community often difficult for women to find and maintain?

Women are busy—overextended with activities, responsibilities, and obligations. Community takes intentional prioritization and a desire to grow alongside others. But it is no easy trick—schedules are full, the pull of busyness can be a real struggle, and community takes time and availability.

Availability also means we must bring our authentic selves to relationships, and that is not easy. Many of us have created a facade of “I’m okay,” but such inauthenticity undermines finding a tribe and learning to thrive. If we are not okay, we should have a safe space to share that, but we also should be creating that safe space for others.

I also think we can get caught up in “Pinterest-envy” or the desire to keep up with the Pinterest boards. It may not be that we strive for every aspect of our lives to be picture perfect, but mostly, we are trying to keep up with our perception of the lives of others. That envy can block us from seeing who people truly are and take our eyes off Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Only when we focus on Him and ask Him to use us to bless and serve others will we drop the envy and start living and thriving in authentic relationships.

Q: What are the four categories of “one another” sayings from the New Testament you examine in The Belonging Project?

The phrase “one another” is derived from the Greek word allelon, which means “one another . . . each other; mutual,” or “reciprocally.” Appearing more than one hundred times in the New Testament, this concept forms the basis of all true Christian community and has direct impact on our witness to the world. As we read in John 13:35 (NIV), “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” 

In the Belonging Project, we examine some of these “one anothers,” grouping them into four themes:

1.       Find One Another
2.       Fellowship with One Another
3.       Forgive One Another
4.       Fortify One Another

In each week of the study, we focus on one particular theme and explore relevant “one another” scriptures and related passages to help give us clarity on how we might live a life in a community that is both fulfilling and fun. Together, we will dive into how to handle life when we feel dejected, disconnected, and dissatisfied so that we can find our tribe and learn to thrive. 

Q: Typically, in the church when we hear the word “fellowship,” we think the word “meal” should follow. What is true fellowship within our community?

True fellowship is when believers are willing to celebrate together, mourn together, support one another, love one another enough to speak the truth in love, and hold one another accountable. Such living is not easy, but it is rewarding and fosters spiritual growth in all involved.

In Romans 12:13, we are told to “share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” I am glad that Paul used the word practice when it comes to hospitality, because I am still practicing. There are people in my life who find great joy and fulfillment in opening their homes, hands, and tables to people, no matter the hour. Although I love when people come to visit and break bread with us, I need advance notice—and that is not hospitality in its purest form; it is the desire to impress others.

I used to believe that hospitality was limited to opening one’s home to others, but I have come to realize that, indeed, this is only a fraction of hospitality. Hospitality can be defined as serving others with love and without complaint, taking on the expense and tasks with joy.

Q: What is something about forgiveness and grace that we often misunderstand or get wrong? How does humility fit in?

Forgiveness has the word “give” in it. It is a gift to both the one forgiven and the one forgiving. We are called to forgive one another, knowing that we will eventually hurt one another as imperfect people. It is to make right. Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same— it takes one to forgive and two to reconcile. Forgiveness does not require reconciliation; sometimes it is not possible or practical, but forgiveness is always the right thing to do.

Grace is the next step, not just make right, but make better! Grace can be defined as “undeserved favor.” If we continually recognize the grace given to us in Christ Jesus, humility certainly follows, and relationships with others more easily exist. Grace is what Jesus modeled for us and what God extends to us. God does not treat us as our sins deserve (Psalm 103:10). Instead, we are given grace. We sometimes focus on what we deserve because we work hard, go to Bible study, or because we declined a cookie. We rarely focus on the fact we deserved condemnation and instead we were given love. We deserved death, and we were given life.

Q: What are some ways readers can creatively come together to do the study as a group, even if they aren’t able to meet in person?

First of all, Zoom and other technologies like it are a great way to connect. Schedule a time each week to discuss the study at length, covering the questions at the end of each lesson and share them with others in the study. In addition, one could easily watch the videos, complete the study, then discuss the answers over the phone with others in their lives. The hard part is finding a tribe with which to do the study.

Ask God to show you how you can add to your community of friends, even at this time of quarantine. Pray that God would prompt you to think of others who might be hungry for connection and would benefit from such a study. Call at least one person in your church and or neighborhood and ask how you can pray for him/her. Pray with him/her on the phone and ask if they would like to be part of The Belonging Project with you. Make a list of people who might be good additions to your community of friends and to the study. Include people from your church, workplace, and neighborhood or area. Pray for each of them—not only that they might become your friend but also that God would bless their study of his Word.