In general terms we define community as an organized network or a coordinated effort to bring people together. Communities develop as people are drawn together by common interests. Maybe they are inspired by activities such as sporting events/clubs or charitable events.
One of the most important aspects of community is that it is a place to develop new relationships. We are drawn to places out of common interests, but usually we are drawn there in the hope of developing new friendships. After all, isn’t the foundation for most friendships something we have in common be it work, church, sports, animals, or charity?
However, even the best of communities are not perfect. Some of us may have been hurt or injured in a group setting. For some of us that place was our church and we are now skeptical about religious organizations or related groups. Community; however, can be a place where we can learn how to love and care for others and find healing for our wounds.
Community, while a great place to meet people, can’t provide us with perfect unconditional love or remove our fear of being alone. We bring who we are to community gatherings which means if we are insecure around people, we will most likely be a bit unsettled walking into a new community. If we are willing to look outside ourselves and focus our attention on others, it may become a place to heal and grow by living for others. Community then becomes more about others feeling good and not about us and as a natural byproduct, we find ourselves comfortable.
But let’s be realistic, community isn’t always going to be peaceful and free of conflict. Especially religious-oriented communities. After all, we’re only human and no matter how noble the cause which draws us together—including a common faith–we bring our faults, our bad habits, and our personal hurts with us. We frequently bring judgment of others—which is more likely our way of comparing ourselves to others. But in a good community setting, we can learn to be forgiving and that forgiveness holds us together and allows us to grow. We can see each other as made in the image of God and recognize that each person has value and deserves respect, including ourselves.
Faith-based groups have all the foibles and rewards of any ordinary community. They have different reasons for coming together but the commonality is a group of people (friends) who believe in the Lord, even if they are at different stages in their spiritual walk They are groups where the glue is largely a desire for relationship first with the Lord and then with one another.
In Christian community we move from solitude and self-care to a position of service and ministry for others. There it is again—community focused on others. A faith-based community is where we look for a place of spiritual belonging and growth. That means it is a place for listening and learning too. It is a place where we move from absorbing the Word of God (solitude) to a point of acting on what God has spoken into our hearts—our passion and purpose.
There are a few scriptures that come to mind when I think about Christian community:
- “For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them.” (Matthew 18:20) This is pretty much the foundation for all faith gatherings for Christians. Our communities, therefore, can be small or large, but they are firstly because we have a belief in Jesus Christ.
- “And let us consider how we spur one another toward love and good deeds, … meeting together…let us encourage one another.” (Hebrews 10:24-25) This, for me, exemplifies what I believe about community: that we must have a purpose in our community. Gathering just to share or study the bible isn’t enough if all we do is stay within our church walls. We are to be about serving others and we can’t do that just sitting in the pew Sunday and writing checks.
- Bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2) As a community we should be aware of what is going on in the lives of people in our group. We need to uplift each other and we need to be there in the struggles of our lives, not just the joyful moments.
- Look to the interests of others. (Phil 2:3-6) Ahh—here is that ‘other focus’ again. We can find peace for ourselves when we invest in knowing more about others. When we are in pain, the best medicine may be to simply ask someone else how they are doing—and then wait for more than the traditional “fine” answer. See what we can do for others not what they can do for us.
- Join in prayer for one another. Pray for God’s purpose in the community and for the individuals in the community. Prayer is the most important thing we can do for each other and is the actual glue for community.
Author William Barry tells us that “Christian community is not for its own sake, but for the sake of the world.” And that “the community of God knows no boundaries, either of race, religion, or nationality.” Therefore, let Christian community be where we encounter God together and grow spiritually. If your desire is to serve others, to have authentic relationships, and to grow spiritually, the best place to start is a community where you see a common tread and a people that are moved to action. Enter into the community prayerfully and thoughtfully. Remember there are no perfect people; however, if you remember to focus on the mission and the other people, you may also find a place where you feel comfortable and that you belong.