Rethinking Community: 3 Truths on What It Is & What It's Not

I’ll be honest: sometimes, I don’t [fully] understand “community”.

I mean…I know we were made for it. I know God ultimately is it.

But I guess I just don’t know how to [entirely] live it the way we were intended.

Granted my perspective is a tad crusty…dare I say, cynical…on account of more friends fading away in recent years, not to mention the demographical disadvantages in places where connection should be happening.

But skepticism aside, I do wonder if part of the confusion is tied to the increasingly blurred line between perceived “community” and proximity.

For instance, with proximity, you’re generally around people who are apathetic in knowing you (classic ‘don’t know, don’t care’). I see this at my work all the time. If you’re ‘different’1 , then people are indifferent. As a result, cliquey cultures abound and those on the outskirts are treated as outcasts.

Contrarily, with community, you’re around people who are, at least, open to the idea of actively seeking relationship/koinonia. I see this at my church most the time. If a new person walks in the door, he/she’s not only taken in, but intimately walked with until they’re communally integrated (or at least have a clearer understanding on direction).

So however we define the contrast, it’s fair to say proximity and community are nowhere close to synonymous.

But perhaps you’re like me considering your depression/discouragement…trying to make sense of why so many people are content in being proximal, but not close.

If that’s you, understand I can’t speak for everyone, but based on what I do know…

1) If we desire community, then it must be a priority in our lives.

There’s no such thing as ‘secondhand’ community. Either you’re relationally intentional or you’re not.

2) Community isn’t just a good idea, it’s also one of the greatest mandates we’re given in Scripture.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” ~ Hebrews 10:24-25

And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts…” ~ Acts 2:42-47

So random question: How many of you like chocolate milk? I imagine most of you. Well, as you likely know then, chocolate milk isn’t really chocolate milk unless the chocolate is stirred in. Have you ever tasted unstirred chocolate milk? No bueno, right? Basically just milk with a subtle hint of cocoa residue.

With that said, think of community like a cold glass of chocolate milk2. If we don’t allow the Spirit to stir us through genuine relationship, if we’re so easily satisfied by fenced-off fellowship, then the flavor of whatever community we’re experiencing is going to be compromised. Therefore, I submit if we truly want to live out Hebrews 10, we must be willing to allow the Spirit to stir us up so people can taste the sweetness of God's presence through our interaction.

3) Like proximity, community and cliques aren’t compatible.

My thought here is: if there are walls or barbed wires involved, it’s not real community. Sure, there can be camaraderie behind closed doors, but when we talk about authentic community, it can only be experienced by a group of people who are open to love and encourage anyone and everyone. Thus, if we’re content on not loving past our current relational defaults, then our community is nothing more than a shadow of what God intended. 

Of course, there’s much more I could say about community, but for now, I’ll park it here…just because I can’t help but feel many out there are feeling battered and bruised not only by what they’re experiencing in social circles, but what they should be experiencing. I know for me, I’ve found myself in this boat in recent years.

Yet, it’s in the moments I’m wrestling with community when I’m reminded to allow the Holy Spirit to stir me up with a desire to love and encourage anyone and everyone with the good news that Jesus is not only near, but eager in wanting to abide with us.

So when you feel shut out, ask the Lord to open you up. ‘Cause truth is: Love is not contingent on inclusion (given inclusion implies boundaries), but is calibrated by humility seeking the interest of others, making brotherly affection evident, contributing to the needs of the saints, all the while proclaiming the excellencies of him who ordained the beauty of fellowship to begin with (Philippians 2:4 + Romans 12:10 + 1 Peter 2:9).


1) By ‘different’, I mean anything from calling and character profile to age and race

2) Props to Steve Garrett for the inspiration given during the August 28 Pursuit Service @ The Gate Community Church

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