What does community mean to you? For us, it is the result of our family mission statement:
Why Does Community Matter?
Living life in intentional community isn’t just about starting a commune (though it may look like that for some people! Here are some friends of ours who have started a community house in the city of St. Louis.) Often it simply looks like being real and present with one another. Community can happen everyday in living rooms, coffee shops, on the street, in prisons, and in grocery stores.
It reveals our own weaknesses and selfishness.
Proverbs 27:17 says “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Nothing is quite as humbling nor as rewarding as learning about ourselves through the love and criticisms of others. Simple things like living together and dealing with someone everyday (family is the original community most of us are given) are immensely challenging and require extreme patience and daily surrender. None of us are as perfect as we think.
We can accomplish greater things together than apart.
One person can’t change the world alone. Well, maybe they could, but it’d be pretty hard! We need likeminded people to challenge us and encourage us on the journey. We’re all stronger when accompanied by others. Together we form a body where the different members’ strengths account for the weaknesses of others. Ecclesiastes 4:12 says “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
The Christian community is the opposite of a highly uniform group of people whose behavior has been toned down to a common denominator and whose originality has been dulled. On the contrary, the Christian community, gathered in common discipleship, is the place where individual gifts can be called fourth and put into service for all. It belongs to the essence of this new togetherness that our unique talents are no longer objects or competition but elements of community, no longer qualities that divide but gifts that unite….
Both sameness and uniqueness can be affirmed in community. When we unmask the illusion that a person is the difference he or she makes, we can come together on the basis of our common human brokenness and our common need for healing.
-Henri J. M. Nouwen, Dutch catholic priest, member of L’Arche community
We were created to live in community with one another.
When God created man he looked at him and said “It is not good for man to be alone.” We exist for community, first as families, then as neighbors and friends and brothers and sisters in Christ. I believe God designed community as a rich and beautiful thing. I believe there’s potential in community that many modern American Christians haven’t even begun to tap into.
Benefits of Community
Yes, living in community is hard. No one is perfect. No one can fulfill you completely. You will get hurt and you will hurt others. BUT it’s worth it and it’s what we’re called to as believers. We all have walls. But being vulnerable with people is the only way to break down those walls and build deep relationships. Vulnerability is actually not a weakness. It’s perceived by others as strength and boldness. Ironic, huh? How can we be more vulnerable with each other in order to strengthen our relationships? Admitting when we need help. Reaching out. Confessing our sins and weaknesses to one another. Praying for one another. These are just a few of the strong ties that vulnerability brings.
Community is laying down yourself. It’s forgetting about your personal preferences and putting the other members of the group before yourself. I once heard humility defined as a physical act – that it meant physically taking the last spot in line or the worst seat at the table. We often don’t notice the humble ones because they are making themselves invisible. It cannot be done for recognition or fame. (There’s no such thing as a #humblebrag!) How can we actively look for ways to lay ourselves down and build up the other members of our community in what we say and do? How can we make ourselves invisible, by doing good deeds without notice or recognition?
Personally, I need to learn to be a better listener. I don’t know how many times I’ve kicked myself for asking someone a genuine, caring question, and then interrupting them when they try to give an answer. It’s embarrassing looking back at all those times, but I strive to learn from it. I strive to do better. I strive to be a more attentive listener, who doesn’t always interrupt to put in my two-cents. That’s not connecting. That’s just making it about myself. I can ask for accountability from my close friends. I can ask that they hold me to my word and call me out when I’m not listening or being to selfish or any of my many other shortcomings. When I admit I’m not perfect and I reach out for my friends to remind me daily, I see positive changes take place that I couldn’t have done on my own.
Reconciliation and Forgiveness.
We are a family brought together by the blood of Jesus. That’s why we take communion. That’s why we meet together. That’s why we host potlucks. We aren’t meant to be divided. Not by class, race, religion, orientation, politics. Anything. Our Pastor preached on Sunday about “If it were up to me, who would I exclude from the table?” Referring to Mark 7:24-30 when the Gentile woman insists on Jesus healing her daughter, in spite of her not being a Jew. Jesus tells her she is part of the family. It wasn’t a good deed just for her – it was deliberately to show the disciples that the good news is for everyone….especially those they wished to exclude. Forgiveness and reconciliation go hand in hand. We may have done each other wrong in the past. Let’s not debate about whether or not we hurt or misunderstood each other. If someone says you hurt them, listen. Believe them. Don’t be defensive. Don’t try to prove them wrong. They know if you hurt them or not. Skip the arguments and just forgive. Forgiveness is the start of reconciliation, and the beginning of the community’s journey. Never underestimate the power of forgiveness in tearing down walls that will otherwise rip apart friendships and families. Never be too proud to lay yourself down, admit that you were wrong, and start again.
It’s just more frugal to share and live together! It makes sense to be roommates rather than neighbors in most cases. And aside from the shared bills, before there was insurance there was community. This is what the church did in the early days. People surrounded around each other in times of need. Widows and orphans were cared for. If your home was destroyed, you moved in with neighbors. Your community helped you rebuild. If your spouse passed away your family and church provided for you in their place. And then there’s today…. Today we spend thousands of dollars a year to protect ourselves from disasters that may never happen. Wasted resources. And if they do happen, we must still provide co-pays and jump through hoops and wait for reimbursement. It’s flawed to say the least. The Bible spells out a better way of living.
For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness
2 Corinthians 8:13-14
But are we really up for it? Would we really help our brothers and sisters and neighbors and friends when they needed it rather than relying on a flawed system based on probability and statistics? Would we answer the challenge? (Josh and I personally use Medishare rather than normal medical insurance. It’s a lot like insurance but it’s believers who are committed to healthy living paying for one another’s medical bills.) While insurance may be a necessary thing in today’s world, how can we adjust our thinking? How can we step in and provide that shelter for those in need? After all, the biggest needs when tragedy strikes aren’t provided by insurance companies. Aren’t our biggest needs in hard times personal and relational? I’d argue that when hardships come what most of us need isn’t better insurance, but some good friends.
Even the most introverted person needs human interaction. Everyone needs a tribe of trusted people. Community provides a place of shelter and support. A place of less depression and loneliness, more accountability and healing. Love is at the center of any covenant relationship or community. It’s at the heart of every strong marriage and the core of every friendship. We need God’s love in our lives in order to accomplish anything worthwhile or fulfilling. In John 13:35 Jesus says the world will know we are his disciples by our love for one another. Not by our Facebook posts, not by our politics, not by the food we eat, the T-shirts we wear, or the stores we boycott. By our love.
God, help us all learn what it takes to live in community with one another as you would have us. Show us what we can do to break down our walls and build true, rich, life-giving community in our homes, churches, and neighborhoods.