Writing this article seems like both a joke and a jab to me because I struggle greatly with community. For the longest time in my life, I honestly did not see the need for it. In fact, I would boast to myself that my superpower was my ability to thrive alone and I did thrive. All I needed were my mum, siblings, and one or two friends. I found it easy to hide under the canopy of the introverted personality type, I did not have a problem, I just was not a people person. So, as I write this, I am writing to myself as well, because even though my stance has changed, I still find it daunting to submit to community. Knowing this, I will not be writing under the assumption that all we need as believers is a three-step guide to “hacking” community. That would be grossly dishonest because while we were not created to be alone (Gen 2:18), somehow, and for varying reasons, that may have become our default disposition.
In this world, even the greatest recluse will seldom be completely alone because living requires interacting with people albeit on a very platonic level. So, intentionally welcoming people into your life and doing life with them requires a much stronger commitment than that required for random connections. If you are already living well as a loner, putting in the extra effort to accommodate people in your space does not seem to be worth it. The question then is, why should I not live relying solely on myself, and what value does community hold for me? I will answer.
God Commands Us to Live in Community: This is the premise upon which every other reason lies. Hebrews 10: 24-25 says “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another– and all the more as you see the day approaching”. We see here a clear call not to give up on meeting other believers. Instead, we are to fellowship with each other in a way that spurs love and good deeds. While the command is clear, for some people, this answer may not seem “robust” enough.
In some minds, it is not just enough that God directs us, we have to know why. Why does God give us commands? Why did God give us this command? God says to Adam 16b-17 “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die”. Here, God gives an instruction and states the resultant effect of disobeying Him because He is not just somewhere in heaven dishing out edicts for us. His instructions are beneficial to us and not Him because they are protective. God knew that the consequence of eating from that tree would be death and so, He gave a protective commandment to Adam. Adam, questioning His motive, disobeyed Him and we all know how that turned out. God’s commands far more than being restrictive are protective.
When I was 10 or 11 years old, we had an uncle who stayed with us and my mother went out of her way to ensure that I was never alone with him in the house. On the rare occasion that I was, the house doors had to be open wide. I did not understand her insistence of these rules and I concluded that she was just being a kill joy. It took me another ten years to realize that she was protecting me because stats have shown that most girls are sexually abused by people they are familiar with. Specifically, 1 in 5 girls are abused before they turn 18, 95% of sexually abused children are abused by someone they know with 50% of these people being family members. These are sobering facts and now, I cannot imagine how petrified my single mother was at the thought of this happening to me. Her instructions were protective and it took me a decade to see it.
So, when God tells us to share our lives with others, we can trust that our good God is instructing us for our own good. God gives us commands to protect us and the command of community is not any different. What then do we stand to gain from community? Two of those benefits are seen below.
You will Grow in Community: As a recovering recluse, let me tell you that this growth is evident in my life. I am learning to truly care for people, empathize with them and extend grace to them. Am I saying a magic wand was waved and my issues are gone? Definitely not, I no longer live an “all man for himself” life and I am a lot more gracious than I used to be.
The principle of communal growth is not just a biblical one but in “secular” circles, it is employed as well. If you are a professional who exists in isolation from other professionals like you, chances are that there is a very low ceiling on how far you can go with your ambition. Professional bodies exist to catalyze growth. The church exists to foster spiritual and all-around growth. (Hebrews 10:24-25, Proverbs 27:17).
You will Receive Support in Community: When in fellowship with other believers, you have a bonus family that is there for you all the time. In fact, the Bible in the New Testament places more emphasis on your spiritual family than your earthly one. Now, this is not a call to abandon your nuclear or extended families but a call to broaden the scope of the definition of what that word means to you as God prescribes it. Bear each other’s burdens etc.
We have established that as believers, we are commanded to live in community and that this instruction is for our good and has benefits. There are also certain pitfalls we need to avoid when seeking to share our lives with others.
We are to Seek Out Healthy Communities: Church should be a haven. And by a haven, I do not mean a place where your bad behaviour is accommodated and enabled, but a place that is gospel-centered filled and with people who truly care about each other and are bearing fruit.
We are to Serve in Community But Not Be Consumed By a Messiah Complex: Church can be intoxicating especially when you serve and see the result of your service in the life of others. It is easy to then carry burdens that are not yours- burdens that are for Jesus only. Community burnout is as real for pastors as it is for laypeople. You will not be the solution to what ails everyone and although this realization can be painful, it is poignant in reminding us that it is Jesus who saves and not you. Remember, you are not the way but Jesus is. This way you can rest without guilt knowing that Jesus is holding his church and keeping his people.
You may have read up till this point and still be turning up your nose on community because the church in recent times has not had the best of reputations. Some people will say “my Christianity is between me and God”. This is erroneous because the God you claim to serve does not hold this position. There is no such thing as a solo Christian. The name Christian already assumes that you are among a body of people. The failings of the church should grieve you and grieve you greatly. If anything, it should spur you to holiness and actual Christian living and not a total withdrawal from the Church.
Sharing your life with people is hard, very hard. But even someone like me who would rather not knows that is a beautiful experience. I am barely scratching the surface but I see the power doing life with other believers holds. It is painful but it is ever so rewarding. Give community a chance today.
Written by Gbemileke Anthony