No matter how we’re designed – introvert, extrovert, socially adept or socially awkward -something in our soul longs for meaningful relationships with others. We long to know others and be known by them. We treasure friendships that allow us to truly “be ourselves.” For some we may never have found this sort of community, and others, have been deeply wounded by relationships, yet all of us still long for deep, authentic, real community.
We long to be connected with others in an authentic community. But for many of us, the process of building authentic community is a mystery. Or, we’ve tried what we thought was an authentic community only to be burned or abused.
So, if deep community is something we all want, if it’s part of being made in God’s image, then what makes it so hard to attain? What keeps us from achieving the type of meaningful human relationships that God designed us for?
Why are relationships still fraught with brokenness, even among Christians? This is the tension we live in. Even though Jesus has delivered us from sin, He has not yet eradicated sin from the world. The idea of community simultaneously attracts and repels most of us. We long for the life-affirming benefits that community can bestow, but we resist the demands that community makes.
God created us for community
I don’t know where it came from, whether it is something I was born with, or influenced by my circumstances, yet I have a deep yearning for authentic community. Over the years one passage of Scripture has placed such a strong conviction, a dream, a vision within my life, and it continues to drive me passionately when looking at my response to authentic community. In Acts 2:42–47, the Scripture provides a beautiful and compelling picture of Christian community.
‘They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.’ Acts 2:42-47
This snapshot of the early church offers a template for authentic community. If we would build these qualities into our relationships, not only would we inspire passion in others, but also honour God.
For me this model of community has always been my dream for both the church and community. Some reading this blog shared this passion and journey with myself and family as we endeavoured to live this model in a community where we were the only pastors living in that community. It changed us as individuals into agents of transformation, making sustainable development a desirable vision that became a present reality. Transformation ultimately changed people’s hearts and mind when they were confronted with truth, evidence of the power of the Gospel.
Nearly twenty years later, I still have the hunger for authentic community. My desire is even stronger now. Besides, I have a sense of urgency which comes from my understanding of others. I am not the only one, needing such a community. Everyone needs a community in which they can be nurtured.
The early church saints introduced me to qualities which have become priorities and I share them as I continue my journey towards authentic community.
The Apostles’ Teaching
Community furthers our continuing conversion by being a place where we teach each other and hold ourselves accountable to each other. When I hear what God is teaching others, it teaches me, too. When I submit to the guidance and scrutiny of my brothers and sisters, it forces me to grow and to be accountable to the commitments I make.
The practice of Christian community, quite simply, makes the gospel a living reality. It embodies a specific, personal way of life together in Christ. It strengthens me to live the life to which I am called; it conveys God’s life and power to the world at large. And it is necessary.
The breaking of bread
Community furthers our relationship with others. I have always assumed that the expression, “the breaking of bread,” used here in Acts 2:42 referred to the observance of the Lord’s Table, or Communion. Now I’m not quite as certain. Often “the breaking of bread” does refer to observing Communion. However, Luke does not appear to be calling attention to the remembrance of our Lord’s death, as much as to the simple sharing of a meal with fellow believers. The sharing of a meal was perhaps the most intimate form of community one could have with fellow believers.
Everybody was in awe
Community is the laboratory in which we learn to rely on God’s unfailing love and grace and experience the power of the gospel. We are created for community. We are redeemed for community. And we are transformed in community.
By being transformed through community, loving God, and being loved by Him, we display the transformation power of the gospel. As we walk like Jesus, bringing his love to every part of society, to the rich and poor, to the lost and the broken, the simplicity of encountering God and His gospel changes the world.
All the believers were together
Christian community is simply sharing a common life in Christ. Community makes us vulnerable and real, it will be heart and soul to soul, deep, searching, loving, grace giving and life giving with each other. We can’t have authentic community unless the “real you” shows up. It moves us beyond the self-interested isolation of private lives and beyond the superficial social contacts that pass for “Christian fellowship.” The biblical ideal of community challenges us to commit ourselves to life together as the people of God.
We cannot experience deep, authentic community as a consumer. The very essence of the life of God itself is to give ourselves away by being the person who loves other people and seeks deeper more authentic relationships.
A Christ-honouring community displays loyalty, dependability, mutual support, respect, and grace to one another. They are not just unified. They have a strong sense of the priority of unity. They make unity work. They know it takes effort. It means letting go of petty differences and self-centred agendas. It also results from the core culture of believing that what we are to one another is as important as what we’re doing together.
The Lord added to their number
Community is also the primary context for mission, our outward focus as believers. God wants to use our communities, messy and broken as they are, to draw others into his story and introduce them to Jesus, the Redeemer! It’s not just about us becoming more like Jesus; it’s about people who don’t know Jesus coming to know him as Saviour and Lord.
So, it’s no surprise that a strong community means greater ability to make a physical and spiritual impact in the world around us.
A gift of grace
This final quality of community is one that cannot be manufactured by people. It is in fact a divine result of purpose, love and unity – a gift of grace. While we cannot produce this sense of shared destiny, we can certainly undermine it or even prevent it from arising. In truth, authentic community is the receptacle for God’s sovereign and supernatural work. God loves to fill His people with His presence and power when they are one in heart and purpose.
Community is not simply a strategy; it’s a core part of life that God intended for us all to share.