Updated: May 30, 2020
Often overlooked or approached with a lack of solemnity, the role of a Christian community in a believer’s walk is one of those very crucial aspects to both believing and walking in the freedom of Christ. In fact, God outlines throughout the Bible both explicitly and implicitly the importance of Christian community for believers. Three things I see many believers get wrong (me included in different seasons of my life) are giving a majority of their time to a non-Christian community, believing they can do this life predominantly on their own, and being around other believers but never truly doing life together. I have actually done all three of these things. I am far from a perfect depiction of such practices, but I have also experienced the detriment that happens as a result of doing all three. In this post, I want to discuss both the importance and role of community in a believer's walk and what I believe it looks like to truly "do life together".
Although contrary to much of what the world says, relationships are actually not a means to solely bring satisfaction to ourselves. Their purpose and goal far transcends self-serving motives. In a sermon by John Piper, he outlines the idea of fellowship and relationship simply, but extremely well. He says, “fellowship is a mutual bond that Christians have with Christ that puts us in a deep, eternal relationship with one another.” (We Need Each Other, Piper) The community God desires for us to be in isn’t to serve ourselves. It isn’t because we have a shared love for donuts and drawing. It isn’t because it is easy and fun and charismatic all the time. Fellowship is a result BECAUSE of the mutual bond we have together with Christ. It’s a bond as a result of Christ. In Christ, we have fellowship with one another that is both a blessing and encouragement towards our loving father. That is the point of Christian community that goes deep and works through the dark stuff. The point is to draw us nearer under the throne of our holy and heavenly father through joy, forgiveness, grace, messing up, reconciling, and loving each other even as we don’t feel like doing so. If we live a life of solidarity convinced that we can within ourselves forgive, encourage, and point ourselves towards Christ during every season of our lives…. We are acting out of pride. We need those outside of ourselves that we share a bond with in Christ to point us towards his goodness and not our own. If you remove Christ from this equation, we look just like the rest of the world.
Early in my Christian faith, I was both believing I could stay strong in my beliefs and grow in my relationship with the Lord while doing it on my own and spending most of my time in my usual secular and non-believing community. First, I want you to understand that I am not encouraging Christians to isolate themselves from those that do not follow the Lord. Honestly, I think most Christians do too good of a job at that. Rather, I am discussing the practice of keeping your time of being around believers at church and spending the remainder of your free time with those that live contrary to how God calls us to. I know this is an incredibly difficult concept to put into practice or even understand, but I whole-heartedly believe it is crucial. Before I unpack both mine and others beliefs on that, I want to discuss why solidarity in the Christian walk is contrary to how God calls us to live. Furthermore, I want to discuss how that practice of solidarity often leads to further hardship, confusion, incorrect beliefs, and almost inevitably lack of growth in our relationship with God. Ultimately, any of these practices only result in missing out on the fullness of God, His word, and the freedom in which Christ so freely offers us. In our inherently prideful selves, it can become easy to be trapped in the idea that reading God’s word and seeking Him are able to be done in fullness on our own. I believe that as we naturally want to be the most knowledgeable, independent, or not reliant on others, this approach is taken by many. When I first had my heart awakened by God, I approached my relationship with God as something to be done alone in my house. Don’t get me wrong, the deep desire I had to read the Bible and just spend alone time with God was an incredible gift, but when I continued in my solidarity, I saw the grasp of God’s goodness fade. The longer I went thinking I could continue to grow in God’s grace by myself or by the Youtube preachers I had found, the quicker I started to tip-toe back into the life I lived before.
While the Youtube preachers and teachers were great in pointing me towards certain Biblical principles, I quickly started to realize the lack of community they presented when any day lacked the overwhelming joy I had experienced the first day God became real in my heart. Although still reading my Bible and praying, I found the appeal of nights out drinking and long conversations gossiping started to regain the attractive qualities they had before. During these nights out or conversations I continually felt an uneasiness in my spirit, but because I had no Christian community to point me towards what God called of me, I continued to walk both halfway in the world and halfway in God’s goodness. The longer I went, the less my convictions were strong enough to steer me from my life choices. Since I had not grown up in a Christian household, I was truly walking blind only to see that which included familiarity. Luckily, one of these online teachers I so often went to for gospel provision posted a video on the importance of finding a local church and community. This was a concept I had yet to hear, and the idea of finding a church became both frightening and exciting. I truly had no idea what to look for in a church at this time. Because of this, I praise God for pointing me towards the church I am still at to this day.
I pray all of you can find a church that upholds the truth of the gospel and continually aims at growing in relationship with you. For those that have that already, praise God! If I'm being honest, once you have found a church, it can become difficult to then find a community within the body that you can go deeper with. I wish I had a magic guide to finding this, but all the advice I can give is to get uncomfortable, put yourself out there, and open yourself up to the variety of ways community might end up looking in your life. After a couple months of going to my church, I decided to attend a small group (or as we call them, gatherings). I remember going to the gathering hoping to meet others my age and instantaneously connect with them. Oh how I was wrong. The person that approached me first and quickly took a vested interest in getting to know me was about 15 years older than me. Because she seemed eager to just get to know me, I figured I would give it a try. Upon our first time hanging out, I could truly sense just how passionate she was about God. I remember thinking, “wow, I want to be just like her!” I also was so worried that I could not encourage her in the way she needed because of my lack of Biblical knowledge and young age. As we continued to meet regularly and I continued to put myself out there being incredibly uncomfortable and vulnerable, a beautiful friendship naturally formed. Now, she is one of my most treasured friends, mentors, and spiritual guidance givers. I know this story is not how it usually goes for most people, but I hope that it points you towards the truth that the community God has for you doesn’t always look like how you envisioned. Furthermore, a Christian community doesn’t happen overnight. Although I was truly blessed with the gift of this friend, the remainder of my amazing community came after years of continually showing up, being uncomfortable, and accepting and giving invitations even when I would have rather been alone. Sometimes community means showing up even when they don’t. Oftentimes it means trusting God even when it feels like your vulnerability and effort are leading to nowhere. I encourage you all to be open to intentionally seeking a Christian community not just because we are called to, but because it is one of the most beautiful gifts God gives.
Now that I have an incredible community around me, it doesn’t mean that it is just rainbows and butterflies moving forward. It is actually quite the opposite. As we continue to grow closer together, uncover our “dark stuff”, and incorrectly approach certain situations, we open ourselves and others to pain and hurt. The beauty of this lies within what awaits on the other side of the hurt. When building a community, it can be both difficult and sometimes nearing impossible to navigate the personalities with both grace and truth. The deeper we go, the more apt to frustration and misunderstandings we become. On the other side of that, though is where the beauty of forgiveness and reconciliation lies. Some pain is harder to forgive or reconcile oftentimes, but it doesn’t mean we walk away the moment it gets hard. I have found that a lot of my growth as a believer has come as a result of walking through those hard times with my closest friends. Even as we don’t desire to either accept or give forgiveness, we must remember what Christian community and fellowship ultimately represent and are purposed for. Attending church and leaving that community there on Sundays is so much less than what God has for us. If our only purpose in life is to exemplify Christ through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the role of community and how we interact with it does not remain exempt from this. So, what role did deep community have in Jesus’s life? There are many examples of this in the Bible. Jesus spent his entire ministry with his followers. He was constantly inviting others into community with him. He spent time alone to go deeper with God one-on-one, but he did not shy away from the hard stuff with the vast community he had around him. Furthermore, Jesus exemplified perfectly how to be a part of a large community but to grow in and love on the smaller group of community closest to him. I think one of the most beautiful depictions of how Christ exemplified what it is to go deep and submerge himself in the hard stuff of his closest community is seen through the story of Lazarus’s death.
This story is preached often, but I want us to simply look at how Jesus reacted to the death of Lazarus and how he approached the community that was distraught over his passing. Lazarus was a man that Jesus knew before his death. Jesus was in close fellowship with his sisters Mary and Martha as well. During the time that Lazarus was sick, Jesus was away from Judea. When Jesus got word of Lazarus’s condition, he ensured his disciples that Lazarus’s sickness would not result in death. (John 11:4) Although those around him were frantic and worried about Lazarus’s state, Jesus remained calm and full of peace because He was aware of what would happen to Lazarus in the days to come. Jesus and his disciples made the journey to Lazarus and his family so that “they may also die with him.” (John 11:16b) Even though Jesus knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead, his purpose outlined to the disciples was so that they could die with Lazarus. What a peculiar statement Jesus made. It would be particularly strange if we didn’t know that Jesus wasn’t literally meaning that they physically die with Lazarus. Jesus, rather, was speaking about spiritual death and mourning over what Lazarus had experienced. When Jesus and his disciples had arrived, Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Since there was no way for people at this time to truly know when someone was dead, they would allow for three-four days to pass to be sure. Since four days had passed, it was probably believed that Lazarus was indefinitely dead. Upon arrival, Jesus was met first by Martha and then later Mary; both of which were understandably distraught over their brothers passing. After talking with them briefly, Christ watched as both of them and other jews wept over Lazarus’s death. Jesus was aware at this time that Lazarus would soon rise from the dead. Because of this, we would assume he would be rejoicing. Rather, he wept with everyone. The savior of the world, with full authority and knowledge of all things, wept because he deeply cared for this community around him. Jesus felt what they felt. Jesus had established a deep relationship with these people and therefore was with them mourning because they mourned. This is what fellowship looks like. It’s not easy, it may not make sense to us with the knowledge we have, but it allows for your community to mourn when you mourn and rejoice when life has joy. Jesus later raised Lazarus from the dead, to everyone’s surprise. We don’t know Lazarus’s reaction after waking from the dead, and I think that’s to point towards Jesus being the centerpoint of this story and not Lazarus. Although Lazarus was the one raised from the dead, Jesus was the one that wept with those hurting, raised him back to physical life, and presumably rejoiced with his community afterwards.
“Fellowship is a mutual bond that Christians have with Christ that puts us in a deep, eternal relationship with one another.” (We Need Each Other, Piper) The fellowship depicted here is with Christ in the flesh but pointed them towards fellowship with Him even after his own death. Christ spoke of himself here as the resurrection and life and that even when someone dies physically, they won’t die eternally. This act of raising Lazarus from death but mourning with them first is a beautiful depiction of our Savior saving but feeling what those he deeply cared about felt. Jesus was the bond for these people in the flesh, but the work he did with them on this day pointed them towards him being the bond that establishes deep, eternal relationship with one another both here on earth and beyond.
So, how can we aim to exemplify Jesus in the community we surround ourselves in? You don’t shy away from it. You get uncomfortable. You don’t pick and choose based off your preferences who you get to know. You seek God and allow for Him to point you towards the goodness that can be found in the right community. Community is so crucial in finding freedom in Christ. It doesn’t mean we will never be hurt within this community, but it does mean we have the opportunity to then love and give grace and forgiveness as God calls us to do. It means we can ultimately point ourselves and others to be lavished in the grace and forgiveness we don’t deserve but yet so freely offered to us by the perfect depiction of fellowship in Christ.
Father, help us to mourn with one another as Jesus did and help us then rejoice together over you. God, help us to be a community that points each other towards you and the Savior who felt and encouraged and pointed others towards truth. God I thank you for the gift of Christian community that sharpens my own relationship with you while growing me to be a sharpener of theirs. Your design for fellowship is a such a beautiful gift Father, and I thank you that it happens because of the work Christ did on the cross.