Keeping Community Real

Keeping Community Real

by Andy Constable

It’s the cool and trendy thing these days to talk about the need for ‘community’. Christians talk like it’s the best thing since sliced bread and that it’s the thing that the church is really lacking in the West. The argument goes that the evangelical church has been great at preaching God’s Word but lacking in gospel community.  Whilst I agree that this is in most cases an accurate assessment, many of those Christians pursuing ‘community’ have a rosy and romantic view of what it looks like. The sad thing is, this means that they never truly experience what Biblical community can be. What does biblical community mean anyway? Here are four things:

Firstly, Biblical Community does not mean going to church with one demographic. Church should not be one homogenous grouping. When people try and start up community they usually attract people of the same age, mindset and background.  Those who are of the ‘younger’ generation don’t want to be held back by the older in vision and music. And the older don’t want to be changed in their view of church. This means frustration and a lack of cohesion. People get isolated and bog off to start their own community stamped with people who think alike and want the same thing. It’s interesting in the book of Acts that the Hellenists are worried in chapter 6 that their widows aren’t being looked after. The younger leaders are concerned that the older aren’t being properly cared for. Isn’t this a greater picture of community? The younger looking after the vulnerable in their community. The church is not meant for one age group but a diverse and eclectic mixture of people who are saved by grace.

Secondly, biblical Community does not mean simply seeing someone on a Sunday. Community means to be intimately and organically involved in each other’s lives. Think about these verses from Acts 5:32 “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” The early church met regularly, were of one heart and soul and worked this out practically by sharing their possessions and food among themselves making sure everyone was covered. Now I’m not calling us to some sort of hippy commune but this kind of lifestyle is not borne from seeing someone on a Sunday once a week and pretending like our lives are great. These people knew each other and shared what they had where there was need. This involves intimacy and involvement in each other’s lives on a regular basis. We live in a society that is very individualistic and we in the West love boundaries and privacy. This is antithesis to the idea of Biblical community. There must be a breaking down of privacy and boundaries in order for people to care for each other effectively in a Biblical way. Do you have people that you can share your lives with? Do you make the effort to care for people outside of church hours? These things aren’t sexy but the basis of building community.

Thirdly, biblical Community means having a right view of ourselves. People who often talk about community usually locate the lack of community with other people. They say things like, “They are stifling community”, “They are not being open with me”, “They are so old fashioned”. And yet, all the time they are forgetting to take the log out of their own eye first. If we are going to reflect biblical community then we need to be centered on the cross because this gives us an accurate assessment of ourselves. It’s only when we see our brokenness and the fact that our righteousness is unmerited that we will be able to live in community with others. We need to be humble and have a right view of ourselves in order to be able to share our messy lives in an intimate way with those around us. This is difficult because by nature we are proud and self-conceited.

Fourthly, biblical Community is not easy. This should go without saying. The church is not an easy place. The church is the only institution where people are shoved together from all different backgrounds and called to love each other. If we are being an organic and intimate community then we will get on each other’s nerves and our brokenness will become apparent. We will be spending time with people whom we usually would ignore. We will spend time with people who we find annoying. But will we show humility to each other in the face of our brokenness? Will we count others as more significant than ourselves? And it is often in these difficult encounters, that God demonstrates our need for change. Those who have grand, utopian and romantic ideas of community are deluded. We live in a broken world, with broken people and community is difficult. Straight after that verse of the believers sharing everything they had with each other we find the story of Ananias and Sapphira who withhold money from the church. This is a sobering and telling story of the reality of community. It’s not easy!

I love community. I think we should live intimate and organic lives that reflect the beauty of the gospel. However those who want to enter into church community need to drop the idealistic views and get on with some hard graft. Let me end with these verses from John 13:34-35: “A new command I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This is the goal of community to love one another and show the world that we are Christ’s disciples and by God’s grace we pray that we would be a church community that does this! The only question is: are you sure you want it?