A few years ago, I had a conversation with a guy about running. My heart and mind have always loved the idea of a good run, but my body, even at my peak times of fitness, has always rebelled. Literally, running has always made me sick. My favorite trainer can testify. Anyway, I was expressing this to a person I consider to be beyond wise, and his response illustrated why I know I trust his word. He asked if I knew what the best form of exercise was. I waited for the magic answer, and he simply stated, “the one you are doing.” This is quite profound and can translate to many areas of life, including the idea of community.
God commands us to love him and love others. It’s nearly impossible to follow either of these instructions from a distance, to be obedient without having a relationship with God and with others. Growing relationships brings about community. By definition, community is:
“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
— Mark 12:30–31
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
— Hebrews 10:23–25
The disciples were an amazing example of true community. They did life together, and Jesus was always in their midst. He used everyday occurrences and resources to bring them together and experience his presence.
Think about where they were, or even what Jesus used to provide for their needs as he taught them. They saw how Jesus met needs with very few resources. What he had was truly all he needed.
Sometimes the crowds were great in number, but the disciples always seemed to have that front-row encounter that would allow them to grow collectively by what they had taken in.
As I reflect on the most meaningful groups of people I have been a part of, I am continually reminded of our life experiences together. Times when Scripture became our present day, and the things we studied, discussed and prayed about were embedded in our doing life together with Jesus in our midst. It’s also good to keep in mind that God can use anything to draw people together, even if it doesn’t make sense from another’s perspective, even if the group changes, even if people in the group are at different stages in their relationships with him. Jesus was with the disciples 24/7, and among them were doubters, including one who would deny and another who would betray. As in all things, God has a plan and purpose. He simply wants our trust and obedience.
For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.
— Matthew 18:20
My wife loves her boot camp buddies. Even though their workouts are at 5:30 in the morning, even though it is dark and cold at that hour, and even though their time together involves a significant amount of pain and effort, she loves being with them.
As much as we may value our rugged American individualism, the truth is that we were made for community. We see this in the Garden of Eden, where God declared that it was not good for man to dwell alone (Genesis 2:18). And we even see a picture of holy community in God himself (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). The ideal of healthy community echoes throughout the pages of Scripture. Unfortunately, those pages also reveal the realities of broken relationships brought about by sin.
When we as believers, with our new lives in Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit, seek out community with one other, we have the ability to overcome this brokenness and experience something that is truly divine. Not that it is easy to do so — in fact, the Scriptures are full of admonitions on how to treat one another that imply that our default mode of behavior might be quite the opposite:
Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices.
— Colossians 3:9
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
— Ephesians 4:32
…walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
— Ephesians 4:1–3
It is this unity of the Spirit, this bond of peace that we seek in Christian community. Clearly, such community goes beyond a mere social gathering. It’s a spiritual uniting of hearts around the central purpose of exalting Jesus and living out our lives together in reverence for him.
Jesus himself recognized the power of this community when he said:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
— John 13:34–35
Genuine love is the goal — and the standard — for Christian community.
Like air to a bird or water to a fish, so is community to the believer. It is the medium through which we were meant to live. To really take off spiritually, we need the power of community lifting us up and pushing us forward in pursuit of the one who has called us to be in community with him.
Is it time for you to get out of your spiritual nest and put your wings to good use? If so, join a Community Group. You could always just keep walking along the ground by yourself, but you’ll find that sailing through the air with a flock of trusted friends is much more rewarding, for you and for them.
Are you ready to fly?
Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
— James 5:16
Since becoming a Christian when I was 14, I have been in a number of important Christian communities, including confirmation and youth groups, various adult Sunday School classes that grew very close, and informal groups of friends who pray for each other (with requests often simply shot out in text messages!). I hope that you have been in groups like these, too.
One of the most unique Christian communities I have ever been part of, though, was a study of Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline, which I led at my church one fall semester. It is a pretty deep book, and the group that wanted to study it with me was small. In the first session, we set up rules for how we would conduct ourselves. Most of the rules were pretty standard: come to every class that you can; try to do the reading and homework; what is said here stays here; and participate, no matter what. I threw in one more rule because it was my class, and I could do what I wanted — and I wanted this group to be intimate. I told everyone they could only share prayer requests for themselves. No prayers for Aunt Suzie’s bunions. The results shocked me. Despite the 13 weeks of intense content, every member stayed. Every member participated, and we shared a lot of real stuff. We prayed for each other’s deepest concerns, we confessed sins and fears, and we really made a difference in each other’s lives. We were healed by the Lord and the loving concern of these new friends. I think every member of that group would say it had a lasting impact. At first, it felt scary for some; by the end, it was freeing for all.
Do you have close Christian community? If not, please consider joining a c|Life Community Group (or CG for short). Whatever groups you are part of, won’t you take the risk of expressing a personal prayer request? You will set the tone that will give others courage to confess and be healed. It isn’t selfish, it’s Christian community as it was meant to be.
Being a father of three young children, I hear certain phrases almost daily:
“Bubba hit me!”
“Will you wipe my bobo?”
“I don’t want to take a nap!”
And then there’s, “I can do it all by myself.” Almost 100 percent of the time that phrase comes out of their mouths, I’m thinking, “There’s no way in the world you’re going to be able to do that all by yourself!”
We typically grow out of saying that phrase as we mature, but I’m not so sure that we grow out of believing it. We don’t like the idea that we need other people. We strive to be self-sufficient and strong. Saying that you need others is admitting that you are weak.
Many consider self-sufficiency to be an honorable trait, but it’s not even an option for Jesus followers. God’s Word communicates that when you place your faith in Jesus, you immediately become a part of a community of people — called his body — to do life with. You may have thought that you were just joining up with Jesus, but you weren’t. You were also joining up with everyone else that shares your same faith in him.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
— 1 Corinthians 12:27
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.
— Colossians 3:15
Why can’t our faith be, “just me and Jesus?” Why do we have to be connected to this body of people? Because you can’t do it all by yourself. God didn’t design it that way. You need people to encourage you, teach you, pray for you, confront you, serve you, lead you and love you. Likewise, those in the body need you to encourage them, teach them, pray for them, confront them, serve them, lead them and love them. The life of faith was not designed to be done alone. That’s why you became an automatic member of The Body when you placed your faith in Jesus.
Stop trying to do life alone! Stop trying to do faith alone! Stop trying to be self-sufficient! Discover the satisfaction, fulfillment and energy that comes from living for Jesus with a whole army of people at your side!
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
— Ecclesiastes 4:9–12
OK, I will admit that I don’t know everything. As a pastor, I sometimes feel like I am supposed to have the answer to every question. Over the course of my ministry, that expectation — whether it is legitimate or imagined — caused me to become pretty insecure. I wanted to know the answers, and I felt like people expected me to know the answers. So, you can imagine how frustrating it was to get to the place where I could freely admit, “I don’t know everything, and I am OK with it!”
When we launched c|Life, we knew that our goal was to connect people to God and one another. I was perfectly fine with that goal, so long as it didn’t force me into groups where I was going to be put in the middle of the room each week and drilled with questions. My insecurities caused me to dread the idea of being a part of a Community Group. I am, by nature, an introvert who doesn’t have all the answers, so why in the world would I subject myself to this thing called biblical community? I did it, because I not only recognized my inadequacies, I also realized I needed friends.
I can remember going to my first CG. To say I was apprehensive would be an understatement. I did not want to get torpedoed with questions, and I figured making close friends would be nearly impossible because I am a pastor. For a good portion of my ministry, people liked to be considered my friend but they had no interest in actually being a friend. I was shocked at what transpired.
Over the course of several weeks — and eventually, years — I have had the privilege of being a part of five different community groups. In each one, I have found people who weren’t interested in being my friend because I am a pastor, but because I am a person who needs relationships just like anyone else. I have found people to be very forgiving and grateful that I am able to say, “I don’t know,” when it is true. I have found people that I text my prayer requests to, confess my sins to and reach out to when I need a shoulder to cry on or a hand to slap a high five when victory visits. I have found… friends.
I agree with the notion that we grow spiritually when we connect relationally. God has done so many amazing things in the lives of these people I now consider friends. Every time they share what God has done or is doing, I learn something new about my great God and King. My friends have taught me more than they will ever know through our CGs and our friendships.
If you are not in a Community Group of any sort, let me encourage you to be a part of biblical, Christ-centered community. I am not telling you that as a know-it-all pastor, but rather as a person who is walking through this life, just as you are, and has been forever impacted by the power of biblical community. I can honestly say that I know more about and look more like Jesus today than I did that evening almost eight years ago when I walked into my first CG.
God designed us for it. Let’s jump in and see why he thinks it is so important. You won’t be sorry!