Communities of Faith
Updated: Apr 7, 2020
If you wanted to become really competent at something, how much time would it take you?
For instance, if you wanted to learn to speak another language and be really fluent in it, how much time would you need to dedicate? What if you wanted to be a scratch golfer? guess first, you’d have to learn the vocabulary of golf enough to know what a scratch golfer is.
Or what about teaching your kids how to read or do math? Let's say you had little or no support from the outside. What kind of time-investment would it take for your children to learn to read?
If we expect to be good at anything, there simply MUST be a significant time investment. Nobody ever gets to be good at golf accidentally. And every parent knows the patience and perseverance needed on both sides of the picture book to teach, and learn, how to read.
What about fulfilling the biblical requirement that followers of Jesus Christ LEARN how to live in meaningful, intentional Christian COMMUNITY with other believers? How much time are you willing to invest in making that requirement a reality?
Here's what the Bible has to say about the importance of godly community:
"For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:20.
"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 favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." Acts 2:46-47.
"Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." Ephesians 4:3.
"They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers." Acts 1:14.
"For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink." 1 Corinthians 12:13.
"Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." 1 John 4:11.
"How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!" Psalm 133:1.
"I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought with other believers." 1 Corinthians 1:10.
When the Old Testament describes the children of Israel standing together against the forces that opposed them, they’re called THE COMMUNITY. Likewise, in the New Testament, believers stayed in close proximity, both physically and in their interests and priorities, with other believers. Simply put, tight communities are the greenhouse in which the Christian faith is birthed and nurtured.
Unfortunately, we’ve mistaken going to church with a group of friendly strangers and casual acquaintances with what it means to live in Christian community. Further, our failure to recognize how far we’ve drifted from TRUE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY is part and parcel of the reason so few people are attracted to Christianity. The last thing people need is another organizational meeting to attend. Besides, they can watch church on TV, the internet, or listen to podcasts. Why do they need to actually attend a church building or home group to learn about the Bible?
Nelson’s Bible Dictionary points out that the Christian life was mean to be a “common life.” Not common in the sense of average, but common in the sense that believers are SUPPOSED to be interacting with and investing in each other in substantial ways on a daily basis. Think about the term COMMUNION; the common faith we share serving the Lord Jesus Christ, lived out TOGETHER.
I want to offer up seven defining traits all communities of faith should have if they want to be durable and resilient: 1) intentional, 2) invested, 3) connected, 4) protected, 5) attuned, 6) pruned, and 7) festooned.
First, meaningful communities are intentional. The Greek word for community is used 19 times in the New Testament. It literally means a partnership with Christ and His people. No one would enter into a business partnership or a marriage partnership lightly; at least no one with good sense. When we’re thinking about the fellow Christians we do life with, we’re entering into a partnership with them.
Just like a business partnership or a marriage, our Christian partnership – our primary Christian community – should be based on our abilities to step in and work together to create a meaningful whole out of a lot of different parts. We’re also enriching each other’s lives by contributing our abilities in a way that strengthens and enriches others.
Second, real communities require investment. A significant investment of time is essential if we’re to provide a counterweight against the world that’s trying to distract us into abandoning our commitment to our fellow believers. Hebrews 10:25 says we must make it a priority to establish community and stay in community. While a lot of people think it's important to live in community with other believers, the question is, “What are you willing to sacrifice now from your schedule to make Christian community a priority?”
Third, real community is CONNECTED. We need to think of ourselves as pieces of a puzzle that fit together to show the world what Jesus can do when His people cooperate. You and I are each pieces that fit together with other Christians in vibrant community and through that mosaic the light of Jesus shines forth to a world looking for direction and purpose. Let me add here one important point: we need to be building communities AS A FAMILY. If you’re church doesn’t make helping you take great care of your kids a priority, or if they don’t offer multi-generational opportunities where your kids are included, that’s a sign there’s a problem.
Fourth, and this is absolutely vital: Community must be PROTECTED. We live in a culture, at least here in the United States, where church membership is as easy as walking down an aisle and signing a form. Then we wonder why church members are often so flippant about their responsibilities to the community of believers. True Christian community isn’t closed to the outside world, but for durable communities, they must be protected from the flippancy that so often erodes otherwise solid groups.
Fifth, vibrant communities MUST BE ATTUNED. How many lessons does the Bible include about being good stewards of the things with which God has blessed us? Hundreds, right? Building strong communities is essential. And that means being attuned to the needs of the community and stepping up to meet those needs.
Sixth, real Christian communities are PRUNED. We have some great fruit trees in our back yard and we’re bringing in a bumper crop of peaches and plums. But no matter how abundant they are now, they have to be pruned to continue to produce. For communities, pruning means – in love – saying, “There’s certain things that simply don’t define who we are. If you want to live a certain way, that’s fine, but don’t ask us to endorse it. That’s simply not going to happen.”
Unfortunately, that means some people choose to disassociate themselves over the years. But that’s their choice. When we make the Bible our standard for living, we do it with the understanding that it’s God’s Word, not man’s opinion. Moral compromise is the enemy of Christian community, but so is reacting out of defensiveness instead of love.
Finally, all real communities are FESTOONED. FESTOONED is a word that comes from the same root word as FESTIVAL. And, as any good etymological dictionary will tell you, the word FESTIVAL comes from the idea of a religious celebration. Sometimes you see these old sourpuss Christians who are against everything… that’s not how we want our Christian communities defined. Vibrant communities should be places that know how to have the most incredible celebrations on the planet.
In the Old Testament, God’s people were told to work hard, but to also play hard, in joyous celebration. When we celebrate the right way, it’s a spot-on preview of what eternity in heaven will be like. Festooning are strings of lights or flowers or decorations that are connected on each end and hang down in the middle. In the same way, we are connected to God on the one hand and our fellow believers on the other. And in the middle of life, we let our light so shine that we exemplify what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
As you work to build community, make sure that times of joyous fellowship are central to what you’re doing. If we’re to go from being friendly strangers to real Christian communities, there must be plenty of time to really get to know one another put into the mix.
In vibrant communities based on God's Word, everyone brings their talents and gifts to the table for the mutual benefit of others. And, when we do that, it suddenly puts Acts 2:44 in an entirely new light. That passage says the believers held everything in common. In the United States, we often think that was purely an economic issue. They donated X amount of money or goods to the church offering… and that was part of it. But I believe when you see real community at work, it’s not about economics. It's about common needs, common interests, common causes, common opportunities, common mission, common dedication… and then the economics is almost an afterthought.
Christian community, as modeled in the Bible, is the greatest preview of eternity with Jesus we could ever hope to experience. And it's the greatest gift we could ever give the next generation of believers.