The Christian community is wonderful– until it’s not. It is profoundly fulfilling to be part of a healthy church or Christian organization. Conversely, when churches and ministries become toxic, it’s miserable.
When Christians do community, there are certain expectations. We want to be welcomed, appreciated, respected, and trusted. In short, we want to be able to give and receive love and feel as if we are among family.
Throughout scripture, there is evidence that God values community. Before the earth was formed, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit existed in perfect harmony. So, when God formed humans, he said, “Let US make mankind in OUR image; in OUR likeness – male and female,” (Gen. 1:26-27) It seems that God intended for humans to enjoy the same kind of loving fellowship that the Godhead experienced. The ten commandments teach us to treat others well. Likewise, when Jesus was asked to name the greatest commandment, He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Then he went further, “And the second command is like the first, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37, 39) Also, before his crucifixion, Jesus said to the twelve, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples.” (John 13:34-35)
The scriptures make it plain. To please God, we must love each other. Healthy Christian communities are evidence of the transformative power of God. They bring strength to believers and are a testimony to unbelievers. However, building and sustaining healthy Christian communities are often more challenging than we imagine. Misunderstandings come. Jealousy and pride surface. People get hurt and burned out. When this happens, it may seem that our dreams of beautiful Christian fellowship are being bashed upon the jagged rocks of disappointment.
Fortunately, there is always hope. Dr. Christine D. Pohl’s 2014 book, “Living into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us,” explores four practices that have consistently helped Christians build and maintain healthy communities of faith.
1) Embracing gratitude as a way of life
2) Making and keeping promises
3) Living truthfully
4) Practicing hospitality
For the remainder of this article, we will consider gratitude and promises.
The word “gratitude” stems from a Latin word that means “grace.” In Greek, grace is charis, a word that is also contained in the term eucharistia, which means thankfulness. It may be worth noting that the Greek word for Holy Communion is “Eucharist.” The early Church regularly gave thanks and took Holy Communion together, understanding it as partaking of the nature of Christ.
When we gratefully receive from God, we are made like Him, and God is gracious. He loves to bring wholeness. So, it should not surprise us that, in recent years, scientific research shows a correlation between gratitude and well-being. Communities of faith can embrace gratitude as a way of life, by noticing what others do and thanking them for it.
Making and keeping promises is central to the Christian community because it is related to trust, and trust is associated with faith. As the body of Christ, we represent God to each other and the world. So, when we break promises, we may send a message that we are not trustworthy. Some people will then wonder if God or the church is untrustworthy.
For some, making promises comes more easily than promise-keeping. Some people avoid making promises, altogether. Both issues breed stress. In church settings, promises often come in the form of commitments. Let us learn to let our yes be yes and our no be no and follow through on commitments. To do that well, we must develop self-awareness and learn to engage in truth-telling. That will be addressed in a second article.
 Christine D. Pohl, Living into Community: Cultivating Practices that Sustain Us, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012).
 Harvard Health Publishing, “Giving Thanks can make You Happier,” https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier (accessed Mar 16, 2019).
To read part two of this article, click here.