We live in an increasingly fragmented and shallow society. I believe people are really desiring a new way of life that is more connected with others.
Genesis has a vivid picture of God creating. There is great chaos in the Cosmos as God is creating merely from the power of his words. Matter is neither created or destroyed, it simply changes form. God is the only one who creates something out of nothing. And every time he creates something, he steps back and says, “It is good.”
Everything is good—except for one thing in all of creation that is not good. Genesis 2:18 tells us that it is not good for man to be alone.
God has given humanity all of this incredible stuff in creation, but the one thing that cannot be fulfilled by the created world is human companionship. God designed us to thrive in community. God establishes the very first human community—the family—so that we can survive.
Science shows that our health improves when we are actively plugged in to community life. Sure, there are other variables at play, but all things being equal, the person who is connected in community lives a longer and happier life. But this requires that we are intentional about building that community. It means doing more than merely filling a pew with the same person week after week.
It is not enough simply to show up and think that we are building a community. Community is not built in thew worship service. Community is built on the outside so that we come together as a community and worship God together.
Let’s look at three elements of building community:
1. We must connect with Jesus.
There’s a great story about Jesus’s ministry when he encounters a small guy named Zacchaeus: He entered Jericho and was passing through.And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich.And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature.So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way.And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully.And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:1-9).
As a tax collector, Zacchaeus would have been a pariah in the Jewish community. Not only did he extort people, but he represented the Roman occupying state. He was an enemy of God’s people, a traitor to Yahweh. Yet Jesus intentionally went to this outsider, this incredibly flawed individual, and invited him into community!
2. Authentic community begins when we realize that we are imperfect people invited into community with a perfect Jesus Christ.
In our imperfection we’re still invited to come and sit beside Jesus. Can you imagine that? God doesn’t require us to be perfect before we’re invited in. If we had to be perfect first, we’d never receive an invitation. But he loves us and invites us to be part of his community in spite of our flaws and failures.
Paul writes in Romans 5:
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
You don’t have to be good enough for Jesus to take your place on the cross. If so, you never would make it. And authentic community begins when we realize that “I am flawed, yet still invited to be part of God’s community.”
Radio personality Paul Harvey once said: “We’ve strayed from being fishers of men, to being keepers of the aquarium.” Some people act as though the church is supposed to be an aquarium. It’s pretty. You clean it. You watch the pretty fish swim around. It’s perfect, down to the exact pH balance and the diver with the bubbles coming out of his helmet.
People want the church to be perfect and serene. But if you read the Bible the way I do, the church isn’t meant to be an aquarium—it’s a hospital—where broken and wounded people come to find healing. As God works on our lives he cleans us up, sure, but we’re never supposed to forget that our authentic community begins with a recognition that we’re all wounded in need of a hospital.
You don’t have to be perfect—you’re invited as you are.
3. Authentic community continues as we grow and connect with each other
Acts 2 describes the intentionality early Christians had in building community:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.And all who believed were together and had all things in common.And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,praising God and having favor with all the people.
Community doesn’t happen by accident. Community is built as we live life together, as we experience the ups and downs and the joys and the pains together. We don’t want to be a church of strangers simply getting together to do our spiritual thing, and then disappearing into our individual lives. Showing up once a week will not build community or establish relationships. Authentic community happens before and after church, through the week, after duty hours.
Think about group dynamics and cliques. People often get frustrated about an inability to break into new groups because of cliques within an organization. This is true in the church, but it’s also true in the workplace and in neighborhoods. It’s not that cliques are necessarily bad or evil. Cliques develop because people form bonds with others outside of the large group environment. The clique is a fundamental element of community. People bond on the outside and bring those bonds into the larger group. You can’t say, “I’m going to show up at church once a week and then try to insert myself into a clique that meets together three times a week.”
While we want to be open and welcoming to all, we do need to recognize that there are in-group and out-group dynamics at play that allow us to build relationships with others, and building relationships is always a good thing. Just make sure that your relationships don’t cause you to mistreat or alienate others and you’re good to go.
The original Christians met together daily. They ate, they hung out, they celebrated. Their worship services weren’t about strangers getting together—they were about the extended family coming together to worship Jesus. Our social group ruts tend to be the people we can regularly contact with on a daily or weekly basis. Connecting with God’s community means being intentional to develop those relationships and bonds.
Connect with Jesus. Recognize we’re all imperfect but called together to be part of the community of faith. Be intentional in developing the connection with others. It’s about deep relationships and forgetting the shallowness that comes with a lot of our modern culture.
Chris Linzey is husband to Tené, father to the three most beautiful children in the world, movie addict (seriously, if it’s on a screen he'll watch it—doesn’t matter how crummy or low-budget), and a Navy Chaplain, currently assigned to Naval Air Station, Meridian. Chris has a deep desire to help people live lives of faith where the Bible is more than mere words on a page, but the way we live everyday. His undergrad and Master’s studies were in Biblical Studies and he focused on the New Testament (his mentor was a Gospel of Mark scholar). He went on to get a Master of Divinity (MDiv) in Pastoral Preaching. Follow him at @chrislinzey.