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

3 Ways to Elevate Others at Work

I don’t know about you, but I find the ironies of Scripture fascinating.

Weakness as strength, the overturning of human wisdom, redemptive reversals…there are many to choose from.

But I suppose the one gripping me most intensely right now is delayed revelation – how one can read the same verse ninety-nine times, but on the hundredth one, the light bulb goes off…as if you’re reading the verse for the first time. Call it God’s faithfulness. Call it maturity meeting an inspired moment. Whatever the reason, I believe it justifies our call to continually renew our minds in the Word. After all, in the space between passage exposure, who says God can’t work new grids and frameworks into the mix?

Prelude aside, I want to share a recent instance during which I was studying Philippians 2 when all of a sudden, I hit an accelerant taking me deeper into new territory. A familiar read, now a profound resonance. Let’s dive into v. 3

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” (NIV)

“When you do things, do not let selfishness or pride be your guide. Instead, be humble and give more honor to others than to yourselves.” (NCV)

 “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” (NKJV)

“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.” (NLT)

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (ESV)

Now, before I continue, permit me to share some context.

A couple of weeks ago, during a Foundation Group team meeting,  a colleague mentioned how we should honor one another by assuming other’s loads as “crazier” than our own – an agreeable notion given our corporate desire to serve. While I couldn’t remember the Scriptural reference offhand, I knew it took residence in one of Paul’s first imprisonment letters (i.e. Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians). Accordingly, I couldn’t help feeling satisfied having found the source a week later.

As I drilled down, it made sense why this colleague would allude to Philippians 2:3. For starters, the verse captures how corporate love looks in a team construct, particularly in vocational settings. To respect colleagues and clients alike, it’s essential we surrender pride, embrace selfless motives, and integrate humility into everything we do. The reasons this constitutes wisdom are many:

  1. It yields no breathing room to arrogance or self-righteousness.

  2. It emphasizes and prioritizes advancing the needs of others.

  3. It inspires a place for the radical middle to thrive. Spiritually, we know this as living in Spirit and Truth, but vocationally, this often manifests as finding common ground to agree upon.

  4. It creates a spirit of safety and enhances camaraderie/team unity.

  5. It converts corporate ladders from vertical hierarchies into horizontal matrices where all roles are equally valuable (though diverse in function).

However, there are deeper layers to be discovered as we consider occupational application.

Case and point: The allegory of the long spoons –  a regarded illustration, but one seldom tied to marketplace principles.

 

For those unaware of this illustration, the allegory of the long spoons is a parable that shows the difference between heaven and hell wherein each location,  inhabitants are given food with oversized utensils incapable of self-service. In hell, the people cannot cooperate and wail in torment. In heaven, the diners use the spoons to serve food across the table where all are satisfied.

This in mind, we can ‘carpe diem’ the application. If our mission is to maximally serve one another, then self-seeking ambitions will fade as humility builds in places they once occupied. As Romans 12:1-2 states, when we present ourselves as living sacrifices, we position ourselves to be transformed by the renewing of our minds to discern the will of God. Yet, to do this, we must also be committed to living securely in our ‘loved by God’ identity.

‘Cause truth is: If we know who we are, not only will compassion be the hallmark of our efforts, but the overflow to how we shepherd relationships. In a sense, we won’t have room to compare or prove our worth because we know we are loved by God; therefore, we have nothing to lose valuing others above ourselves, in pursuing others’ needs ahead of our own.

As for how this looks in the business world, these truths often reflect in collaboration, communication, and correction:

With collaboration, any time a team comes together to fine-tune or streamline a process, the goal is to make critical functions more efficient…for the sake of service. While economical outcomes are practical, it’s the customer bond, not the bottom line, where equity accrues over time. Consequently, if leadership is intentional in anchoring pursuits to critical needs over critical mass, odds are the organization will validate its authenticity and purpose.

Likewise, with communications, a team is reinforced when ideas and individual strengths are integrated into its corporate dynamic. Once in rhythm, a leader can then create environments of safety where those will more experience can speak life into those with less. And though the balance may require calibrating with new hires, as long as space is giving to professional and personal growth, the ‘unity in community’ element will flourish. Again, the goal of workplace communication should be to elevate the ministry of servanthood in advance of performance metrics; however, if verbal success is to be realized, a leader must differentiate their aim and the overflow to come.

Lastly, with correction, a team leader should always employ honesty with understanding and prudence with patience. Here the principle is straightforward: If a leader is to speak discipline effectively, he/she must exercise transparency constructively. For example, if a leader/supervisor rushes to grace without understanding, then cultures of security may be compromised as opposed to strengthened. Granted, this can be a fine line to walk; then again, that’s the beauty of Philippians 2:3 – One doesn’t have to try to be right, but aim to do right in tending the good in others…

…which brings me to my last point…

If we’re to use our spoons to serve others, we must be intentional to clean them regularly.

Think of it this way: You may love pot roast and mashed potatoes, but if the utensils are dirty, you’re going to hesitate to eat them. Most likely you’re going to wash the serving spoon or request a different side item. Unless you’re really, really hungry.

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In theory,  the same concept applies to ministry, work, and all points in between. While what you serve is important, how you serve is all the more. For instance, not only does ‘how you serve’ shape your influence but answers the question as literally considering Jesus.

As such, if you ever wonder how to serve with clean spoons…lock on to Jesus. Specifically, look to Him as your example in selfless humility (v. 5), empty yourselves as servants of all (v. 7; Mark 9:35), and honor each other with enthusiasm (v. 12). Dare to work in a manner worthy of your calling (Ephesians 4:1), in a way that points to Christ’s sovereignty. And from there, cultivate it, bring it to full effect, and actively pursue spiritual maturity (v. 12) in community, in unity…with humility.

You got this, my friend.

Selah.

Cover photo creds: Terryberry.com