We live in an age and a culture marked by radical individualism. Especially in America, where we value (and expect) people to be independent and self-sufficient. This does not always mesh well with the idea of community and living life together. Yet, humans were made for life together. Community is a vital part of what it means to be human. When we are alone, we suffer.
Loneliness is a real problem in the world, and Americans are among the most lonely people on the planet. Through technology we are “connected” more than ever before, and yet we experience less community. People seem to be craving community now more than ever before. There is a part of us that recognizes that we were created for community. Being isolated from others ultimately diminishes our humanness and harms our soul.
We do not have to look far in the Bible to see community. It is everywhere. Humans are relational creatures, created by a relational God. Throughout Scripture we see God interact, relationally with people in communities. It was in community that the people of God are shaped. Jesus understood the importance of community. In fact, he was very intentional about living and doing with others. Jesus invited a lot of people to live in community with him. Some turned him down. But the people who accepted the invitation followed Jesus into community. The disciples walked together. They followed Jesus together.
In the same way, we follow Jesus together. We cannot follow alone. We were not meant to. To be a Christian is to be in community. It is a reality, a way of living that Jesus has called us into. Community is a place to know and be known; to love and be loved.
Jesus binds us together. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said: “Christ opened up the way to God and to one another. Now Christians can live with each other in peace; they can love and serve one another; they can become one… [but] only through Jesus.”
It can be easy to forget about the communal side of our faith, the ways in which we relate to one another, and focus only on our own personal relationship with God. This is important, to be sure, but sometimes by emphasizing only the vertical relationship (between us and God), we forget about the importance of cultivating the horizontal relationship (between us and other people). The gospel is about both!
One of the Apostle Paul’s greatest concerns was in shaping communities of people. Teaching them how to live together. In Paul’s context, that involved very particular concerns (like Jews and Gentiles sharing a table, for example). Yet, when we read his letters we can hear the call into community as an essential part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. In Romans, Paul instructs the churches to be devoted to God, yes, but also to be devoted to one another in love (12:10).
In community, the gospel comes alive. As Christians we are new creation, a new sort of people, and we live together in new ways. Community is the place where we learn how to love. We learn how to bear with one another. We learn how to listen. In community we are at our best and we are at our worst. Community done right becomes sanctuary. If we can cultivate communities of sanctuary, we create an atmosphere where it is safe to be who we really are.
You may be mourning the loss of physical community during this time, I know I certainly am. Although we may be separated by distance, as Christians we abide with one another communally through Jesus Christ. Right now, life together looks different – but as followers of Jesus, life together is non-optional. To truly take up the Way of Christ, we must set aside our way of doing things in favor of his Way of doing things. Community is for us all. Extrovert and Introvert alike.
So, as you move into the next day, the next week, the next month, make it a priority to build and cultivate community. To welcome others as you have been welcomed by God (Romans 15:7).It is beautiful and hard and messy. But it is necessary and life-giving. At the end of the day, community changes us.
Post based off statement on community at intentionaltheology.com/community