The last few weeks I’ve begun thinking of community. What is it, where is it found, how and why is it important, and what does God say about it? My journey on this topic began as a small thought out of a yearning I felt in my heart to be nearer to others. Just as I began to seriously think of these things, I was invited to a couple Christian small groups (one of which was specifically discussing the topic of community!), and a good friend of mine shared some of his thoughts on a related subject, which lead me to pull Life Together (by Dietrich Bonhoeffer) down from my library shelf to start it over and read it through.
Side note about Life Together: I encourage you to read this book, it will challenge you first of all to think deeply as you read it, but it will also challenge you about the life you live with Jesus. It’s a difficult book to read, but hard things are often worth the energy and time spent.
I have come to few conclusions yet, at least none to lengthy to write about, but I want to share with you a section from chapter three in Life Together. Though I’m over halfway through the book, this excerpt struck me as a good introduction to thoughts about community.
Many people seek fellowship because they are afraid to be alone. Because they cannot stand loneliness, they are driven to seek the company of other people. There are Christians, too, who cannot endure being alone, who have had some bad experiences with themselves, who hope they will gain some help in association with others. They are generally disappointed. Then they blame the fellowship for what is really their own fault. The Christian community is not a spiritual sanatorium. The person who comes into a fellowship because he is running away from himself is misusing it for the sake of diversion, no matter how spiritual this diversion may appear. He is really not seeking community at all, but only distraction which will allow him to forget his loneliness for a brief time, the very alienation that creates the deadly isolation of man. The disintegration of communication and all genuine experience, and finally resignation and spiritual death are the result of such attempts to find a cure.
It is good to question motives, to check them against truth. While community is a good thing, it can be used wrongly. Hiding, whether alone or in community, is not how God desires us to live. I know what it’s like to hide, and how easy it is… even to hide from the hiding. By that I mean, you can try to hide your hiding from others. I think this is often done by joining community. Join a group, show your smiling face, laugh a little, talk together, say your goodbyes and then return home to your lonely heart. I think this happens far too much, and I want to be careful not to allow it to happen in my life. Only when one can live a healthy life alone, can one live a healthy life in community, and, I believe, the other way around is true as well.
A healthy community, among other blocks is built upon a group of people gathered together with a common interest or passion. Whether it’s games of disc golf, or hockey, quilting together, or sharing in long discussions about philosophy or art, it’s life shared which brings us together. In Christian community, faith in Christ is where we find our commonality. It’s Christ who we each hunger to know better, to draw closer to, to live deeper for, and to become more like. It’s this community God desires for us to participate in with each other.
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. (Philippians 2:1-2)
With that said, another aspect I believe is essential to healthy community is one which is not only a building block, but also a natural outflow from healthy community. This is love, or kindness for one another within the community. Members of a community are comrades with each other, sharing not only in life spent together, but in the thoughts and (for the Christian) prayers spent for each other when the community is apart. Consider this, have you ever felt truly connected in a relationship without caring for the other individual? Maybe you’ve striven for closeness, and hoped someone would know you well, but have never found what your heart dreams to find. Could it be you’ve cared more for yourself than for others? Do you try participating in community while thinking more of yourself, and how to make yourself happy, than you do about how you could care for the man or lady sitting next to you? I know I have and it has never worked out. I am confident one can never fully live in community while thinking of their-self first.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)
Let God be our unity, and through him and by his grace let us find joy in one another, and fellowship with one another.