Community is one of the favorite buzz words being used in churches today. Churches talk about being a community of faith, some call themselves _______________ Community Church. Now, I have nothing against community churches, the local body I gather with is St. Thomas Community Church. I also believe community is a vital thing for the church.
I wonder though, if we understand what community is. I'm not sure that most church goers know how to have community, or what it would look like. I also don't think most church leaders understand it. Sometimes churches try to "build community" by having more Sunday school classes, or by having an extended meet and greet time during the Sunday morning service. Other churches have small groups throughout the week. Many times these efforts only serve as another program that gives the appearance of community, but does nothing to build up the people involved. Some smaller churches attempt to have community by seeking to control every area of their members' lives.
One definition of community is: "a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society." There are many other definitions, but it seems to me that this one fits what the church is meant to be. A local body of followers of Jesus is a group of people (that was a profound statement, wasn't it). A local body is also within a larger society. So far, so good. I believe the key for the church is found in the found in the middle of the definition.
A community is a group living together. That may mean living in the same neighborhood, or even in the same house, and there are faith communities who do that. For most of us though, the idea of living together means doing life together. Doing life together is not easy in today's society, but it is essential for community. It takes different forms, from a couple of people getting together for coffee one day a week to families meeting for dinner and spending time together. It can be "theology night" at a local pub, or folks in the church camping together. Doing life together can take many forms, but the important thing is that it happens more than just a couple of hours on Sunday.
A community is also a group with a common characteristic or interest. I believe that the only common interest that can bring about true community is Jesus. Church groups can form around many interests, from sports to cooking. "Accountability groups" are popular. While these groups can be good things, they can quickly become either social groups or exercises in navel gazing. The church has a built-in common characteristic. We are all members of the Body of Christ. We are all family. If a local body is focused on Jesus Christ, and is wrapped up in learning him, and being formed together into his image, we will grow closer together. We will invest ourselves and our resources in each others' lives. We will grow to be open and vulnerable with one another. We will minister to each other. It's not something that will happen overnight, in fact it make take years.
Being a community is like planting a garden. The plants don't bear fruit right away. It takes constant, gentle care to keep the plants going. Sometimes weeds need to be pulled up. It can be messy. It may require effort when we don't feel like it. But, the harvest is a beautiful thing.
From my opportunity to teach in our gathering this morning:
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