I wonder how many times we have heard the word community in our churches and wider society today?
I think we are in the midst of community saturation. It is the buzz word that we choose to use to cover a whole range of gatherings and people groups and i understand why. Lets face it, it has a more inclusive, softer feeling; it sounds like something people might want to be a part of.
However, there does come a time in the use of any word or concept where it becomes so ubiquitous that we tend to lose the grip on why we used it in the first place, take the word ‘awesome’ as an example.
I am desperate to ensure we preserve the art of community; I believe it to be deeply valuable and refuse to let it become something it was ever meant to be. I think community done well, with Jesus at the centre, is an unstoppable force.
As I thought about this I looked at some of the new testament biblical communities and I think there are key characteristics that are vital to our future growth and direction as churches. Unfortunately I think they are also charactieristices we are in big danger of losing.
Communities include diversity
Diversity is pretty uncomfortable. I think if we were all left to our own devices we would probably choose to surround ourselves with people we like, people who get us and agree with most things we say – it’s just easier isn’t it?
Jesus collected a diverse group when He began forming community around Himself. fishermen, a tax collector, “brothers of thunder”, a doubter, traitor and a zealot. When Paul was forming new churches we often see him writing to both Gentile and Jewish believers in the same community. These communities were not without their problems. We hear of times in the Bible that the disciples were caught arguing and Paul was often addressing problems these diverse church communities were experiencing.
We pay the cost of diversity in our comfort levels but we gain its value in so many ways. I believe diversity makes us sharper, it increases our thinking and understanding and leaves us better equipped for Kingdom impact. Jesus knew what He was doing when he choose the 12 in the beginning; He knew that He needed a diverse group that would learn from Him and were committed enough to take the gospel far and wide even if it would prove difficult at times.
It’s worth noting that Jesus didn’t just pay lip service to the diversity in his group; he didn’t include a token “traitor” to help his representation with traitors. Judas was given real responsibility; he looked after the money and as far as I can see he was sent out like the rest of them to heal the sick and cast out demons. It’s vital that we include and not just acknowledge diversity in our communities.
Communities welcome change
I welcome change in most places except in my personal spaces. If I was left to my own devices I get a bit fidgety if a new person comes along to hang with my group of friends. It can take me a while to adjust to the new credits in my favourite TV show and my wife’s new haircuts throw me for a loop.
It’s not just that I’m getting grumpy in my old age; as people we don’t always welcome change in our communities especially when it comes to new arrivals. It’s so important that community includes newcomers and the change that they bring. The gospels are not just a collection of stories of Jesus and the 12; there are many different people who they interact with, some who join in with them and play their part in the journey. In fact we find out in Luke 10 that Jesus sends out 72 other leaders that He has chosen along the way, we hear about the women that followed Him, never mind the countless others that he meets during His 3 years in ministry. He was showing the disciples that it was important that they were inclusive; whether He was telling them to let the children come to him, feeding the people who had gathered or taking the time to talk to the people others had long ignored.
If we are participating in a community that isn’t experiencing change and new voices then we are seriously limiting the effectiveness of that community. The early church community in Acts is held up as a wonderful example of a biblical community because of how they cared for one other and took care of each others needs in the midst of worship and prayer but let’s not forget that this was far from a closed community; they had added 3000 in one day and each day more and more were added to their number. They had to have been making room in the midst of all they did for these people to join in.
Communities need purpose
I love hanging out with people as much as anyone else, but it’s important that we don’t hang out so much that we become hung out! There is absolute value in times of reflection and rest as a community and it’s something that Jesus did both personally, with the 3 and with the 12.
What we shouldn’t miss though is that Jesus and his disciples did all off this in the midst of the mission; the times they ‘took out’ were all part of the advancement of the Kingdom Jesus was bringing during his time on earth. When we take those times in the midst of mission they become so valuable, so rewarding and vital to the mission.
If mission is completely removed from our communities then they will quickly lose their edge and in time the relationships within them will be strectched and move apart.
Communities encourage risk
Our personal relationship with Jesus is symbiotic with how we follow Jesus in our communities in my opinion. I know some people feel they can serve God without community but there is so much more to gain by combining both the personal and community space.
A community of people can have strange effects on us; both good and bad. So many times at school I did things I didn’t really agree with because the culture of the community I was in caused me to push into something I wouldn’t naturally. The negative is as true as the positive in that respect.
I believe that true community should encourage risk and push us further than we could have gone on our own; it should champion those who push it further and continually raise the bar on what it can reach for.
When a community settles for what it has it will soon decline, but when it stretches with all it has it will surely live.
Let’s ensure we don’t allow community to become an insular, lifeless, safe, sound, tight, ordered and comfortable experience. Community done well is expansive, life giving, risky, messy, generous, beautiful, uncomfortable and wonderful.
Truth to tell;
it’s just plain awesome!!!!!!!!!!!