What is Community?

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What is Community?

By Jared Kliewer

I remember a time when I thought I had found the holy grail of community. 6 years ago, I was part of a young church plant in Austin that I loved. Along with some close friends, my fiancée and I had started a semi-regular Sunday evening tradition of grilling fajitas poolside, enjoying the beautiful Austin weather and great company, while eating and swimming the night away. (No, we probably didn’t wait the mandatory hour after eating before getting in the water.) I remember walking away from those nights thinking, “THIS IS IT! Community at its best! Worshiping together in the morning. Hanging out in the evening.” While it was amazing, I came to realize that biblical community is much more normal and consistent than this.

Community has become a buzzword in our culture. You see it thrown around all the time. “The greatest thing about our neighborhood is the sense of community.” “I love my Crossfit gym because it’s more than a workout facility, it’s a community.” “In my church, I’ve found a community to belong to.” Listen in to the conversations around you and you will hear people mention it frequently.

Community as God’s DNA

Whether introvert or extrovert, it seems like we all have an intrinsic pull toward community. While the definition of community from one person to the next is vastly different, our desire for true community starts from the same place.

It starts with God.

Before humans existed, before the Bible existed, God existed. God has always existed in the three persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  What does that mean? That means that God himself is community. There is a loving, selfless interaction between the persons of the Trinity that provide the perfect model of what human community should look like.

Fast forward to the creation account in Genesis 1 and 2. You see that God created Adam in his image and called Adam and all the other creation “good”. But then, in Genesis 2, God makes the claim that it was “not good” because Adam was alone. God moves to solve this problem — a community problem! In the scene that ensues, God creates Eve and brings the two of them together. For what purpose? To live together in COMMUNITY, just like God lived in community.

From beginning to end, God is building community

As you trace God’s interaction with people throughout the Bible, his actions are overtly community-centered. In Genesis 12, God makes a covenant with Abram in order to make his FAMILY into a great NATION. That’s a community. In Exodus 19, God calls the Israelites to make a covenant with him to be a PEOPLE. That’s a community! In the Gospels, you find Jesus spending time intentionally investing in a group of 12 disciples. That’s a community. When the reins of the church are handed to the disciples, they spread out to go plant churches. Those churches are communities. In Revelation 5, John paints a picture of eternity where people from every tribe, tongue and nation are gathered around worshiping Jesus. That diverse gathering is a community! From beginning to end, God is building community. This is why, at Providence, we have made community 1 of our 4 core values.

Created for Community

As we look at God’s desire for relationship with a people (not just an individual), the question for you (Christian) is not IF you are going to be involved in community, but HOW? The Bible does not leave any room for a “me and Jesus” relationship. When Jesus saved you and you gained a spiritual Father, you also gained spiritual siblings! You inherited a whole host of brothers and sisters in Christ.

Think of it like your earthly family. We all have a family we grew up with. Many of us had siblings and parents. As a child, you didn’t decide IF you were going to be a part of your family (that fact was already established!), but you could decide HOW you were going to be involved. Would you be friends with your siblings? Would you be helpful to your parents? Would you contribute to the family? Or, you could retreat to your bedroom, isolate yourself, and only interact with your family when it was absolutely necessary.

This brings up an interesting tension. If everyone has an intrinsic pull toward community (as I stated earlier) and it can be so amazing, why am I having to make the case for the importance of community?

I believe the answer is simple. We love the idea of community for what we can get, not for what we can give. We crave friends. We crave belonging. We crave a listening ear when we’re in pain. We crave a crew to hang out with on the weekends. All of those are what we GET from community. The problem is, true community begins to happen when we give self-sacrificially — when we are the friend, when we help others belong, when we give our ears to listen, or when we invite people into our social outings.

Because He First Loved Us

The uniqueness of a Christian community is the posture we have toward one another. It’s a loving, self-sacrificial posture. This started with Jesus. John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” That’s exactly what Jesus has done for us. His entire mission from heaven to earth to the cross was grounded in loving self-sacrifice. Jesus accomplished two things with the cross: his sacrificial love saved you and me, personally, but it also brought us all into his family and community as one people.

we love because he first loved us

And now, we love because he first loved us. We invest in our church community because he first invested in us.

One of the families that enjoyed our poolside fajita community in Austin was the same family that displayed a much truer version of community. Seven years ago, I moved to Austin as a single guy with no job and no connections. After meeting me once, this family offered up a spare bedroom in their house for free for as long as I needed it (it ended up being 14 months!). I was homeless and they took me in! Their act of loving self-sacrifice reflected Jesus’ sacrificial nature in a very real way.

Moving Towards Community

This brings us to a crossroads. As you think about community, are you picturing what you can get or what you can give? And as you consider your role in the church, are you asking how you can give in order to build up the community? While it can be overwhelming to try to recreate the Acts 2 community, I suggest taking a little pressure off and moving toward community in the simplest of ways.

1.   SHOW UP - It is impossible to be a part of a community if you are not present. Show up for Sunday worship gatherings. Show up at your City Group. Show up when there’s a social event with your community. Consistent presence builds true community.

2.   TALK TO PEOPLE - Is there anything more awkward than walking into a room where no one is talking. You know what makes it more awkward? Your silence! One simple selfless act of encouraging community (after showing up) is asking questions and getting to know someone. This may seem simple, but ditch the urge to scroll on your iPhone next time you walk into the room and engage someone in meaningful conversation.

3.   SAY “YES” - One of the biggest blessings of community in the last couple months came in the smallest of circumstances. My hair looked like a lion’s mane two days before Christmas Eve, and I desperately wanted it cut. On December 22, my barber suddenly had an opening and I had 2 hours to get a babysitter for my three kids (ages 4, 2, and 1…yikes!). I hesitantly texted a family in our City Group and within minutes they said, “YES!” Our 3 kids added chaos to their schedule, left toys all over their house, and inconvenienced them, but their willingness to help me was such a blessing. The others-centered nature of this simple act was a mark of Jesus-centered community. Don’t think you need to change the world every day. The normal, consistent, sacrificial acts of saying “yes” build the foundation of a Jesus-centered community.

4.   REDEEM YOUR TIME - You already spend time with friends. You already text them, talk on the phone and have conversations. Consider redeeming some of that conversational time by asking, “How’s your soul?” Pause and pray for a friend when they’re sharing a struggle. Send an extra text with a verse that was specifically encouraging to you that day. Simple acts of spiritual intentionality go a long way in building a culture.

Since before the world began, there was community in the Trinity. From Adam and Eve, to the Israelites as God’s chosen people, to Jesus’ ministry with the Twelve, to the modern church, we were made to live in community.

In Psalm 133:1, the Psalmist says, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”

Biblical community isn’t magical — it occurs more often than not in the ordinary. Building a culture of community in our church starts with you considering how you can make simple steps to move toward people in love.

Jared Kliewer