We All Want Community
“Community” has become somewhat of a buzzword in recent years. It doesn’t take very long before you begin to hear your peers talking about “doing community” or “doing life” together. It’s become so pervasive in our conversations because of how fundamentally important it is to us as human beings.
We are, at our core, communal people. As Christians who really believe what the Bible says, we read throughout the New Testament that we are called to follow Christ together, not alone. There is no such thing as an independent Christian. When we read Paul’s letters written to various churches in the New Testament, they are always addressed to a plural “you”.
“Now you (pl) are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” 1 Cor. 12:27
Christ died for sinners. Individual sinners, yes. But, he died so that he might call to Himself a church: a community of believers who love each other with radical, sacrificial love. Many of us value the importance of living life in community with other believers. But here’s the rub…
The Hard Truth
What happens when the people we’re “doing life” with start to drive us crazy? What happens when the veneer wears off and living in community isn’t sexy anymore? What happens when life gets in the way and we have to make concerted efforts to choose community? What happens when people don’t meet our needs the way we think they should be?
Unfortunately, the answer is that many of us either reject community or look for new community when these things happen. Maybe it starts small. Maybe we miss small group a couple times a month and sleep in a couple of Sundays in a row. Seems innocent enough, right? But then, before you know it, you can’t remember the last time you hung out with other believers outside of Sunday morning. Or you’ve missed 6 months of small group and you begin to convince yourself that the people you’ve been meeting with just “aren’t the same anymore”, or life has just been too crazy lately, or doing community “just isn’t doing anything” for you. The reality is, we love community when its easy, requires little effort, and meets our felt needs, but when it begins to get difficult, requires long strides of endurance, and feels more like pouring out than being poured into, we often reject community and displace the blame onto everyone and everything else. We want the benefits of community without the cost.
How does the Gospel speak into this struggle? Does Jesus tell us to “buck up and shut up” and just muscle our way through the real, valid struggle we’re going through? I don’t think so. The Gospel is all about renewal: taking broken people and transforming them into obedient, grace-filled followers of Jesus. God does not simply toss out broken things; he fixes them. Renewal is fundamental to His nature. This renewal extends, especially, into our relationships with other people. Because we have been changed and are being changed by Jesus, it means that we see our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ in a new way – as fellow sinners also being changed by Jesus. We’re all in process. Whats more, when we see the renewal happening in our own lives, we begin to love others the way Jesus loved us – sacrificially. No longer do we invest into other peoples’ lives only when its convenient or gives us a return on that investment. No longer do we only spend time around other believers when we feel like it or are full of energy (because lets be honest, do we ever really feel like it?). No longer do we meet with and pray for our brothers and sisters when we don’t have anything else to do. Because our relationships are being renewed by Jesus, we are no longer slaves to convenience, comfort, and ease; we are slaves to Jesus. Jesus is a much better master because he enables us to choose what is difficult for the good of others – to be freed to do hard things – and, as a result, he continually fills us with His Spirit so that those hard things become joyful things. He renews our relationships.
At the end of the day, wanting the benefits of community without the cost is really just another form of self-worship. We see community the same way we see a shopping mall – something that can give me what I want, when I want it, at the time that I want it for minimal cost. Jesus has much more for us. Being the church to one another means being present for one another. It means laying down our needs for the needs of others because that is exactly what Jesus did for us. The more we choose to sacrificially love and pursue one another in real, messy, difficult community, the more we preach the Gospel with our lives and the more we offer hope to a desperate world.