Community – it’s what every church says they offer, and it is what every Christian knows they need. Yet it seems to be as elusive as Bigfoot.
Let me be clear, community isn’t just time spent in the fellowship hall eating potato salad until we can’t move, although as a Baptist that is a big part of it. Christian community is composed of submission to Christ, submission to each other, accountability and forgiveness.
How many times have you been shocked to hear of yet another seemingly healthy couple announce a sudden divorce. So many people have put on their Sunday best, smiled and nodded politely, all while hiding the darkness deep within. These people are the causalities of our current model of community.
If we are going to find real community, we are going to have to be willing to take some punches. Community is rare because it is so emotionally expensive. There is a toxic mentality that blocks the front door to healthy community, and it’s something we all do.
We want grace when we mess up and justice when someone wrongs us. This combination keeps people from opening up because the fear of retribution is all too real. So struggling people get trapped between desiring community while fearing vulnerability and true openness. So, they resort back to the Sunday morning head nod and smile that lets those around them know everything is fine until one day they become just another victim of unhealthy Christian community.
Paul’s letter to the Colossians has helped me grow in this area. In the third chapter he tells us some of the attributes that come along with being a mature Christian. He tells us to be kind, humble, meek and forgiving. What’s interesting is that every single one of those can only be expressed in community. You can’t be kind and forgiving if you are isolated.
He then gave some examples of different types of community that we are in. It starts off with just general community then dives deeper into the husband and wife relationship and the parent-child relationship. Paul ends with what I think is the deepest level of community, the bond servant and master relationship.
It is this relationship between slave and master that we all enter into when we become Christians. Either we are slaves to sin or we are slaves to God, purchased with the price of the blood of Christ.
Unlike other slaves, though, we are declared by God to be adopted into the family, but the slave and master relationship still remains. So we are slaves who are also sons and daughters of our master. This is important for community because if we don’t acknowledge that we all have the same master, some people in our group will try and master the others.
Marriage relationships often get dominated by the most selfish person in the group. But if we are all slaves, then we have no choice but to obey our master when it comes to resolving conflict and healing wounds.
Community brings with it the same joys and trials as marriage. It shows us areas where we are weak, but gives us a group of people who are willing to stand by us as we grow.
So, if you long for community, I encourage you to find a group of slaves to fellowship with. Just because some people might know the Bible or have been in church for a long time doesn’t mean they are trustworthy when it comes to being in a healthy community.
You must be willing to submit all your worries and concerns and disappointments at the feet of the Master. When someone wrongs you, you are commanded to forgive. When someone shares their darkness, we are commanded to be light and love. This type of community builds a church instead of a church trying to simply create community through programming.
And if you can’t find this type of place, you may have to be the first one to role model openness and vulnerability, and others will follow. We are all just waiting for someone safe to talk to about the struggles that are real, raw and hidden.