Thursday

The Purpose of Community

I have spent a good bit of time recently thinking about the concept of community within the church.  A little over 6 months ago I was let go from my position as Adult Ministries Pastor (due to the church's declining finances) at the church my wife and I had been members at for 12 years.  Since that time, we have struggled with the loss of the community we had built there and with how to find that community elsewhere.  We know God desires for us to live in community from His commands to us in scripture.

Wash one another’s feet—John 13:14. 
Love one another—John 13:3; 15:12, 17; Romans 13:8; I Peter 1:22; I John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11. 
In honor preferring one another—Romans 12:10. 
Don’t judge one another—Romans 14:13. 
Receive one another—Romans 15:7. 
Salute one another—Romans 16:16. 
Greet one another—I Cor. 16:20, II Cor. 13:12, I Peter 5:14. 
Serve one another—Gal. 5:13. 
Don’t provoke one another or envy one another—Gal. 5:26. 
Bear one another’s burdens—Gal. 6:2. 
Forbear one another in love—Eph. 4:2, Col. 3:13. 
Forgive one another—Eph. 4:32, Col. 3:13. 
Teach and admonish one another with song—Col. 3:16. 
Comfort one another—I Thess. 4:18. 
Edify one another—I Thess. 5:11. 
Exhort one another— Heb. 3:13; 10:25. 
Consider one another to provoke unto love and good works—Heb. 10:24.

God's Word is clear: we are not to live as solitary Christians but in a community of believers.  One of the things I have learned, however, is that not all communities are created equal.  I have found that communities fit into three primary categories.

Community of Convenience
A lot of what we call community is built primarily on convenience.  It exists because we all are at church on Sundays and Wednesdays but it doesn't really exist outside of that venue much.  Take away the convenience of meeting at church, and much of that community will fall away.  I think this is true of many church staffs as well.  What we call community is really just a few guys who get along reasonably well and work together.  The problem with this type of community is that it ultimately is superficial and can't stand up to much, if any, threat to its existence.

Community of Community
Community is the end goal of this community.  It often forms around small groups.  These people will make time for one another, love one another, serve one another, and pray for one another.  Where this community breaks down is that it ultimately terminates on itself.  There is no real desire to engage others or invite them into community because an influx of new people would break the bubble of safety and comfort that has been created.  This community is very popular in churches today because it offers many of the characteristics of true biblical community without any of the major drawbacks.  Its primary problem is its inward focus.  We are called to be disciple makers and that calls for an outward focus on bringing the gospel to those who need it.  Sometimes that means leaving the comfort of our community which many in these type of communities are unable or unwilling to do.

Biblical Community
As you may have guessed by the clever name, I believe this is what the bible teaches when it speaks to fellowship and community.  The major difference between biblical community and the others is that believers in biblical community realize that being connected to other believers is a means to an end and not the end in and of itself.  Biblical community is a means of helping produce healthy followers of Christ who will fulfill God's call on the church of making His glory known in all the world.  Because this community is bonded together by the purpose of God for their lives, it is able to withstand anything the world may throw at it. It enjoys the friendships formed, the care given, the service offered to others, the teaching received within its walls but knows that it is not more important than the furthering of the gospel to all nations.

The "one another" commands of scripture were never meant solely to make us as individuals or as communities better or happier.  They are meant to help form us into vessels in which the gospel can be taken to the ends of the earth.