One of the most basic definitions of a community could be this; a group of people that share something in common. Not “have” something in common, but “share” something in common. What’s the difference? A very significant one, actually.
Let’s say that you have a group of people who are all interested in dogs. Chances are, when they get together they bring their dogs with them. What do you suppose they talk about? Their dogs. They talk about the kind of food they feed their precious Scruffy. They talk about that cute (or not so cute) thing Bluto did the other day. They probably even talk about stuff that happens to their friends and their dogs. They are into dogs. They may get together as a group regularly. They may get together in small groups or one on one. But you know that, whatever the circumstance, dogs are the main event. Their community is based around dogs. They don’t just have it in common, they share it.
Dogs are just one example. Cars, computers, boats, sports, flowers, you name it. The same kind of community is shared by those who love what they love.
There is one rather sad exception to this. It is the one area where one would think that people would naturally share with each other. What is it? The church, specifically in America.
More and more often this is what happens on Sunday mornings. Christians, people who say they love Jesus, gather together. They say their “hellos” and “good mornings”, they sing the songs, they hear the sermon, and then they leave one another until next week. This is not community. This isn’t sharing what they have in common. Is that the fault of the people? Not entirely. Not even mostly. The fault primarily rests with with those who try to grow the church numerically, without growing it spiritually. How does that happen?
One way is when churches try to get people together based on common interest, lifestyle, or situation. Men’s groups, women’s groups, youth groups, single parent groups, recovering fish-o-holic groups, etc. While there isn’t anything inherently wrong with these groups, the danger is that community becomes based on who they are and not who the Lord is in their lives. This is the exact opposite of how things were in the church in Acts.
The church in Acts was made up of rich and poor, free and slave, Jew and Gentile, male and female. What brought these various people together? Their common faith in Jesus. It didn’t just bring them together, it forced them together. These “Christians” were viewed by the world as a cult. They were seen as people who worshipped some dead Jew who claimed to be a King. They were ridiculed by society and, in many cases, abandoned by their families. The only people they could depend on, the only people they could connect with, the only people they could share their joy in and love for Jesus with, was each other.
It’s easy to imagine them, like our dog lovers mentioned earlier, getting together and sharing about a fresh insight the Spirit gave them from a part of the Word they read or heard. They might have shared about how the Lord provided for a need, how the Lord finally broke through a hard hearted family member, how the Lord gave them peace during a trying situation, how they were stuck in a fleshly attitude and the Spirit reminded them to give the Lord their burden and it was lightened. How the Lord, how the Spirit, how the Lord. Because of the interactive love relationship that they had with Jesus, their community was based on Him. It’s a sad, observable reality that this kind of relationship with Jesus is being taught less and less, which results in less and less authentic community. It ought not to be this way.
How do we fix this? Well, it starts with you and it starts with me. I first have to deliberately develop my own love relationship with Jesus. You have to deliberately develop your own love relationship with Jesus. As we do that, as we become more and more excited about Him, as we fall more and more in love with Him, the natural byproduct of that is going to be a desire to share it with one another.
The church isn’t supposed to be like a club or group where people who happen to believe the same thing come together because it’s what you are supposed to do. Many times people go to church because it’s what they think is expected of them. It’s just the way they were raised. It becomes an obligation, even an annoyance. Granted, there are times when when we just don’t feel like it. That’s why we are told in Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” Paul calls the church “body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12). We are all like cells in a body. Cells need each other. Cells die when they become disconnected from the body. It’s interesting to note that, while cells are individual things, they are also interdependent things.
Deepen your relationship with Jesus. Share that with others. Invite others to share with you. Allow others to depend on you, and allow yourself to be dependent upon others in the church. As you and I do this, we will have authentic community. We will be the living body of Christ. The alternative isn’t really an alternative.