Rethinking Community: 3 Truths on What It Is & What It’s Not

Written 9/28/2016; revised 10/11/2020

I’ll be honest: Sometimes, I don’t [fully] understand “community”.

I mean…I know we were made for it. I know God ultimately is it. But I guess I just don’t know how to live it the way we were intended.

Granted, my perspective is a tad crusty, dare I say, cynical due to former friends fading away and misplaced support voids.

But skepticism aside, I do wonder if part of the confusion is tied to the increasingly blurred line between perceived “community” and proximity.

For instance, with proximity, you’re generally around people who are apathetic in knowing you. I’ve seen this with former employers. If you’re ‘different’¹, then people are indifferent. If you don’t fit in, you can’t stand out. As a result, unhealthy cliques form, outskirts are treated as outcasts, and communications are compromised.

Contrarily, with community, you’re around people who are open to the idea of seeking relationships and in some cases, building koinonia. I’ve seen this at my current job as well as select churches in my area. When a new person enters, he/she’s not only taken in, but walked with until they’re communally integrated (or at least have a clearer understanding on direction). Accordingly, life begets life, sincerity abounds, and gratitude becomes the hallmark of interaction.

Now, before I continue, let me clarify: I’m not saying nearness and/or involuntary forms of togetherness are wrong. If you know me, then you know I’m a huge advocate regarding the ministry of availability. What I am saying is if we desire to be fishers of men, to be influential stewards in the marketplace, we must discern the difference between proximity and community. Especially in a year like 2020, if you’re feeling discouraged trying to make sense of veiled social circles and structures , permit me to share some empowering thoughts…

1) Whether or not we desire community, it must be a priority in our lives.

While this point may seem straight-forward, the nuance is worth noting. After all, part of our uniqueness boils down to weighted values as filtered through personality, wirings, and spiritual gifts. As many wise men have said, loving yourself should not come at the cost of loving and serving others. Even if it’s quality time or encouragement at an inconvenient moment, the ripple effect can be profound; for who knows the exact words and gestures God has prepared for us at any given point.

Think of this way: If we want to be love, we must desire intimacy with God.; however, to desire intimacy with God, we must understand walking in stride with Him often means doing likewise with others. While this may seem overwhelming, by cultivating a sensitive heart of worship, we can learn to rely on God in relational situations knowing…

  1. God, as part of the Trinity, has been a relational reality for eternity.
  2. God has entrusted us to be intentional in our approach to unity.
  3. God has given us what we need to effortlessly abide in community.

Bottom line: To live as Christ is to live as one with one another.

2) Community isn’t just a good idea but one of the greatest mandates in Scripture.

So random question: How many of you like chocolate milk? Remember Ovaltine back in the day? As a kid, I used to love buying the Chocolate Malt container and stirring some scoops into a icy cold glass of milk before bedtime.

If you can relate, you likely know chocolate milk isn’t really chocolate milk unless the chocolate is stirred in. I mean, have you tried tasting unstirred chocolate milk? No bueno! Basically just milk with a subtle hint of cocoa residue.

Visual secured, I submit community is like a chilled glass of chocolate milk². If we don’t allow the Spirit to stir us through genuine relationship, if we’re so easily satisfied by fenced-off fellowship, then the flavor of whatever community we’re experiencing is going to be compromised.

Therefore, if we truly want to live out Hebrews 10:24-25 we must be willing to allow the Spirit to stir us up so people can taste the sweetness of God’s presence through our interaction.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts…” ~ Acts 2:42-47

Bottom line: Just as God is love, He is community. When our lives are tasting and seeing that God is good, no question our corporate devotion to do likewise will strengthen.

3) Community starts by drawing near to One.

Here’s a question: In terms of relationship, if there are walls or barbed wires involved, can we honestly say what we’re experiencing is real? Not to suggest ‘real’ and ‘complete’ are synonymous or that there can’t be camaraderie behind closed doors or in passing. Certainly, obedience and courage can help us embrace empathy and the missional aspects of community.

But as for intentional brotherly devotion, for ‘everything in common’ life, while it’s okay to accept scraps in dry seasons, we must remember…

True community can only be experienced by a group of people willing to love without agenda and encourage without fear.

When we talk about how this looks in the church, we note community isn’t a vehicle to do life together, but God’s life together since the church is a reflection of the Godhead.

Similarly, in the marketplace, community can be seen as the relational modeling of work as worship and the God community with respect to business.

While I’ll aim to unpack this in my next post (given both sides are essential to our ‘Kingdom influencer identity), for now, know regardless of your situation/setting, if we’re content on not loving past our relational defaults and resentments, then our community will be nothing more than a shadow of God’s origin intent. 

Take it from one who occasionally feels disoriented by what he’s not experiencing. Whenever I’m wrestling with relational voids, I’m reminded to draw near to God, resist fear, and pour out my anxieties upon Him. By doing this, I allow the Spirit to stir up a desire to encourage others with the good news that Jesus is near (proximity) and eager to abide with us (community).

Bottom line: Love is not contingent on acceptance but is calibrated by humility seeking the interest of others, making kindness evident, and proclaiming the goodness of fellowship’s Creator (Philippians 2:4 + Romans 12:10 + 1 Peter 2:9).

As such, my encouragement to you is to ask the Lord to fill you with passion and compassion for His people, to not only move you to physical presence but to the inner courts of the Spirit’s presence.

Selah.

Footnotes

1) By ‘different’, I mean anything from calling and character profile to age and race

2) Props to Steve Garrett for the inspiration given during the August 28 Pursuit Service @ The Gate Community Church

Photo Creds: a2ua.com