What is community? As believers, why should we cultivate it? What should it look like? What are the benefits of living in community?
When I think about biblical community, I automatically turn to Acts 2:42-47. This passage is a beautiful description of the ideal community for followers of Jesus. I believe we can learn a few things from what the early church modeled. Let’s look at the scripture together:
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 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, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
First and foremost, community takes commitment—it doesn’t happen accidentally. While the raw desire for nearness with others may develop organically as we come to know the Father, real community requires more than just gathering together twice a week or pulling off impressive church programs. Sure, those things can be good, and they often help us get the “teaching and prayer” part right. But real community is more than this. If we are in community with other people, we should know them, and they should know us. Often, that kind of “knowing” comes from simply doing life together, sharing and enjoying the presence of our brothers and sisters.
Authentic community happens when we allow people into our lives and our homes. Unfortunately, I believe our cultural addiction to busyness and excess has taught us a self-defeating model of communal seclusion, rather than inclusion. We value our comfort, our privacy, and our resources so much that our preoccupation with these things prevents us from developing authentic connections with others. Excessive seclusion turns our whole concept of community inward on itself, and community becomes “me-focused.” The mindset tends to be on how will I leverage community this month to fit my schedule, my needs, my wishes, and my growth? This is a selfish and backwards way of thinking.
The Acts 2 passage reminds us that community isn’t only about us. It’s about at least two other things: first, other people; and second, the movement of the gospel. As disciples, we ought to pursue community wholeheartedly. We have to train ourselves to resist a culture of excessive seclusion for the sake of gospel-centered inclusion. We need to be people who cultivate safe places for others as much as we do for ourselves. And as we align our hearts to fit this vision, I think we’ll find that our communities will more naturally foster an environment for making disciples.
My husband and I have been married four years. Our first and only home has been on the campus of Emmanuel College. We live in a dorm with 90+ guys over our apartment and 500 or so other students live near us in neighboring dorms. We don’t always do it right, but we’re thankful we’ve gotten to truly experience what it’s like to live in community with lots of other people very close by. And while there are definitely moments when we desire more privacy than we have, we do our absolute best to embrace these days, love our students, and provide safe places for them. This season has been so valuable and has taught us about the benefits (and challenges!) of what community can offer. Transparency, accountability, generosity, conflict-resolution, encouragement—these and more come by doing life with others.
While I understand that not everyone can physically live in a community, we can all be intentional to create space in our lives so authentic community can happen. I think we start by asking ourselves this question: are we willing to let our lives be interrupted? Can we be transparent with those in our community? Or held accountable? Can we be generous with our personal space, time, and our resources? So, I encourage us all to choose community, and not just wait for it to come our way. Let us be a people that allow the interruptions in order to create authentic community.