This is a long post, just so your warned.
Community is one of the many buzz words in the Church community. It’s taken over like a plague. That usually is a good thing, but if we don’t really understand what that word implies then it becomes a dangerous thing. Dangerous because we start to redefine what community actually implies. When we start reading our culture into words, we sometimes tend to water down their meaning. For example many churches have community groups but all that means is a group who meets once a week for 3 hours to maybe eat some food, then go through a Bible study that the larger Church has already put together. This is not community, that’s Bible study with food.
Really community in Christianity boils down to a group of people pursuing The Lord together. Can this happen once a week in someone’s house? Of course, but when that’s all it is, a few meetings during the week, we lose the intimacy with each other. When we plan out the meeting every time, we don’t give much room for God to truly move. Why do I say this? Because sometimes we trick ourselves. We pray prayers like “God have your way tonight” but really what we’re saying is “hey God we have our format prepared, hope you fit in”. This is why I get frustrated with the Sunday service so often, because regardless of our prayers for the Holy Spirit to move, we don’t. We refuse to change too many things on a Sunday morning. I think we should be praying “God help us to be willing to change on a moments notice as your Spirit leads”.
Back to my point. About 6 years ago I met a group of people that became my community. We met once a week on Saturday nights as a group but the difference was that it didn’t stop there for us. We were always together throughout the week and it did not always have a “spiritual” emphasis. What i mean is that often times we got together for dinner, or to do homework together. We had common interests and we did a lot of them together. There is strength in Christian community because you’re able to let your guard down. People want to be there for you, not throw you out, people want to know you intimately in your life not in designated Christian times. This small group I was a part of was called 11th hour and it changed my life.
We really didn’t know what was happening. I would bring a friend out who never met anyone from 11th hour and they would say “I can’t believe this exists” and we would say “us either”. We knew early on that it had nothing to do with us and everything to do with God working among us. We got to a point in 11th hour where our prayer was “God, whatever you want to take away, take away, whatever you want to add, add” and it was completely genuine. We were willing to change anything that he wanted changed. We knew we wanted two things, the real presence of God continually and authentic, deep relationships with each other. God granted both of those to us and we would never be the same.
Our mindset was to be radically inclusive, it didn’t matter who you were, where you came from, you were welcome to join us, to be a part of our local group, to join us in pursuing The Lord together. We were set on fire with a desire to be together as much as possible with each other. One time a friend of ours got extremely sick and was put in the hospital for a week. Every day there were people in his room. Even past visitation hours. The nurses couldn’t believe how many people were with him all day and when they started asking questions we were more than happy to tell them what we were about. We even hacked in to the tv in the hospital room and hooked up a wii so we could play Mario Kart. We had 5-10 guys there day and night hanging out with him and being there for him the entire time he was in the hospital. It makes for a great story today. I mean c’mon, who hooks up a wii to a hospital tv? Our friend was sharing a room with someone else during his stay there so we had to keep quiet. Imagine 4 guys sitting on a hospital bed trying not to scream when they won or lost. It was quite the challenge.
Every day you could bet that some people somewhere from 11th hour were together doing something. We started a text loop dubbed “the loop” where people could send prayer requests to someone who would loop it out. Eventually it got so large that we had two loops. An announcement loop and a prayer loop. I was in charge of that and at one point I was sending about 10,000 texts out per month.
People were coming in to our midst and being set free from all sorts of garbage. We weren’t afraid to get in the mud with each other and work through our garbage. This was what changed my life. For the first time I had someone who knew every dark part of me, who knew all of my crap and helped me work through it. I’m still accountable to that person today and he has become one of my closest friends.
Community really is both/and. It’s all about pursuing The Lord together and it’s all about enjoying life together. When you have a group as large as 11th hour (at one point close to 35 people) you have a wide range of interests and passions. Because of that we tried to support people in doing what they loved. We went to hockey games, art exhibits, concerts, plays, and everything in between. Not because we were all passionate about these things, but because one of us was and we wanted to support that person as much as possible. The band that I play music with (Red Sea Affair) had some of the best fans. Why? Because our community was completely behind us and came to so many of our shows. When community is being fully lived out, it’s more like a unit then it is a group. It’s a living, God breathed commune that is working together in the Kingdom of God.
There’s a price though, and it’s a hefty one. You give up a lot of your individualism. It’s not just you or your family anymore, you gain a new family with new responsibilities and sometimes it gets tough. Sometimes, tough conversations have to be had, sometimes people don’t get along and you are sitting their trying to mediate between two people. This is why Biblical principles are so key. If a community isn’t practicing forgiveness, mercy, grace, patience, and ultimately love consistently, the group will fall apart. It reminds of one of my favorite scene in might ducks 2.
In this scene the hockey coach (coach Bombay) has 10 new hockey players from all over the country. So to get them to work together he ties them up on the ice so they are one big circle, then he says ok work together and skate. Of course the first time everyone tries to go their own way and they all fall. The second time someone yells “OK everyone move to your right now” to which someone else says “Who made you boss? Everyone to your left now” and of course everyone falls down. Finally, they start to work together and start to move in one direction as one group.
It’s a lighthearted scene but still a powerful lesson that can be applied here. Community only works when everyone is willing to work together, compromise, and give up some of their rights to move as a unit.
I’m not trying to paint a utopian picture here of some fantasy world where everyone floats around on clouds and never does stupid things. We’ve all had our moments throughout the years of stupid things and we’ve all either had to approach someone, or have been approach by someone and lovingly corrected. But overall, when a group of people is consistently together in life, and the common theme is pursuing the heart of Jesus together, you come out with a better way to do life. Let me sum this up.
Here’s the bottom line. When we make community a major priority in our life, and we put in the work that is necessary, ultimately we come out with a much fuller and better life. I often times look back and am so grateful for the people that i’ve had in my life and still have. People sometimes come and go as God directs them in His kingdom, and we’ve had to say goodbye to some amazing people as God moves them, but I often times sit back in a chair and remember the amazing times we had together. The other side of that coin is that I still have the most amazing people in my life. I don’t know how people do it alone, I couldn’t imagine not having people in my life that know me better than I know myself in a lot of ways. People that encourage me, allow me to encourage them, and that push me closer to Jesus.
I was with a good friend of mine a couple days ago and I introduced her to some of my community. She told me “These people are great, they just get it and I felt like I could just be myself.” Indeed my friend, indeed.