I recently have had the privilege to sit down with some folks across the country and discuss various ways that the local Church might continue to improve its overall adoption of New Testament practices. In doing so, one of the things that God has really pushed to the forefront of my mind is the nagging suspicion that, for the most part, we have completely lost the idea of what it means to be in community with others. I want to be clear that I don’t mean just the Church – I am referring to society as a whole. In working to center our lives on our daily tasks and our possessions, we’ve forsaken one of the greatest possible joys – living life with people. As we sprawl out to the suburbs, spend 60 hours a week at work, and get lost in the business that accompanies all that we do, little time is left over to develop the deep bonds required to create a tight nit community. And the reality is – this is the one thing we can’t fix with any other innovative solution – developing deep relationships means living intentionally and taking the time required to simply enjoy the company of others.
Before I go any further, I want to start by saying that I am no stranger to this. In fact, I might be the worst of all. You see, when I was growing up, my family frequently moved all over the world and, therefore, it was ingrained in me at a fairly young age not to develop the deepness of relationships that are necessary to understand what it means to live in community with those around me. However, as I talk with people, I see rather quickly that I’m not alone. What myself, and what I would argue is a good slice of the population is doing is building networks of associates (not friends). And, while having some associations with people is necessary to live a fruitful life, rarely do I see people truly living life together. I can’t help but be reminded of the verse in Genesis (2:18) where God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” While this verse is undoubtedly about bringing Adam a wife, I believe the idea of aloneness extends to couples, singles and all people just the same.
So, we must ask, what does the Bible say about the value of community? First, I believe we must understand that as the local Church was being born, it was born in local communities. In fact, consider for a moment what it would mean to be amongst the first followers of Christ – there would be entrenched in this new Church the very idea and necessity for community as those with a common understanding would be few and far between. Therefore, the bonds developed by those of a similar mind would be natural. In our modern day, where just about everyone has heard of Jesus, the same institutional bias no longer exists. Therefore, to combat this we have to be intentional about how we live. And as we look at the verses most often attributed to the core pillars of any Church (Acts 2:42-47), we see Paul share with us the vast importance of community:
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
So as we carefully read the text, we note that it is a group of people who had things in common (v44), were devoted (v42) to daily learning and to fellowship (v46). Could you think of a better example of community? As we consider this, we must also consider the story-arch of scripture. If these are the verses by which we begin to understand the pillars of the Church as Paul teaches, what does he do next? He goes from town to town to install these very communities and after he does so, the letters he writes (that notably make up a significant chunk of the New Testament) are helping these very communities to both understand their teaching and better act as a community. So, if a significant part of the New Testament is to the establishment and correction of communities of people in learning and fellowship, I will go out on a limb and say it’s fairly important that we see this lived out in each of our lives.
The question I anticipate you are probably asking is: isn’t what Paul is doing simply the establishment of Churches and don’t we have a lot of these already? The answer to that question is most certainly, yes. However, my question in response would be: do you feel as though you have a group of people around you devoted to regular (scripture goes as far as to say daily) fellowship together? If the answer is yes, that is wonderful. However, what I’ve witnessed is a growing trend to develop spiritual associates – or a group of people you go to Church with and might even have in your small group – but would be the furthered thing from what we would call the best of friends. These associate relationships are people which we might feel comfortable enough around – but wouldn’t necessarily go as far as to say we are living life together with. I hope I am clear in my distinction as to the emotional and relational ties that bind a group together. If we are truly to live out what scripture teaches, we need to be developing a core group of people we commune with regularly and can truly live out our faith and our lives with.
While Scripture certainly states that community is important, I want to also be very vulnerable for a moment. As someone who had experienced transition for most of his life, I can say with some authority that when I study groups I could consider to be communities of any nature (not just faith-based) as I outline above, I see in every case a much greater level of fulfillment, happiness, and accomplishment than I do from groups of people I would consider to fall more along the lines of associates. Think for a moment of those groups of people that you see really enjoying life together on a regular basis – when they are around those people they consider to be their community, are they happier or sadder than normal? When they are tailgating, shopping, etc… Is it more often with a smile and a laugh or a frown and a tear? The reason I note all of this is to say that even without considering the spiritual ramifications of community, the argument is strong enough on its own to say that life is better lived out amongst a community of friends. And, as I know personally, when my days start to look as though they are numbered – my profession, my possessions and more won’t be comforting to me when things are the hardest. No, the things that will be most comforting are the deep relationships I have with my family and friends. What Paul is doing as he teaches us throughout scripture is calling us to this very type of community bound together by a deep passion for the salvific work of Jesus. So whether it is simply to live a happier life or if it is to experience the fullness of Christian community that scripture teaches, I would urge you to begin considering what it would look like for you to start taking some steps towards truly living out your life and faith with a core group of people around you.
In doing so, I want to leave you with these questions to consider: What is most important to you? Are you living for community? Or are you living another way? If you are, what would life look like if you considered living more intentionally today?