What Is Community?

Here are some good thoughts on community from R.C. Sproul Jr’s Kingdom Notes and Highlands Ministries. Following the article, we’ve included some comments.

What is community?
Imagine that you or your wife is a month away from giving birth. God has already blessed you with four blessings six and under. Now imagine that ten people have come to stay in your house for three days; eight children, sixteen down to eleven months and two weary adult travelers. Now you know something about what community is.

Community is one of those words that everyone likes, but that no one knows how to define. There are no “communities” that lobby against community. There are no Christian denominations that announce on their websites that what sets them apart from other denominations is that everyone in their congregations hates each other. Everybody longs for community, and precious few ever find it.

I suspect there two good reasons for this. The first is this. We tend to define our terms, especially our nouns, by what they are. Community, however, is much more about what it does. The defining qualities are not qualities but actions. Community is defined by loving one another, bearing the burdens of one another, forgiving one another and all the “one anothers” God’s Word calls us to. That you cannot put in a box and sell.

The second reason is a touch more condemning. We don’t know what community is, and more still we don’t know where to find it because we think of it as something we consume rather than something we produce. We complain that our local church lacks community in the same way we complain that our SUV gets bad gas mileage. We weigh our church’s community quotient against the next church down the street, add it up with our relative program scores, and then determine which brand will get our business.

The truth is that you no more “find” community than you “find” a campfire. Both are things that we build, and then invite others to draw warmth. Community isn’t what happens when you receive, but when you give. It is life abundant, which we only get when we die to self. There is the real rub. We don’t have community because we want it to be convenient, clean, and comfortable. Campfires are rarely convenient. They are never clean, and are only comfortable if we don’t feed them.

Nathaniel and Nellie Warner have welcomed my family into their home as my family is blessed to visit the saints at Saint Peter in southwestern Virginia. This church was our home for almost fourteen years. It burns with community, so much so that families, including the Warners, have moved here from around the country just to be a part of it. And now you know our magic formula- smelly diapers, noisy little boys, piles of dirty dishes, air mattresses, honest conversations, and sacrifice.

You can have this too. All it takes is a willingness to allow things to get a little messy. A willingness to allow time to slow down. All it takes is a willingness to give. All you have to do is die.

Koinonia is the Greek word that best describes biblical community. Koinonia means partnership, fellowship and communion. Without it, the church simply isn’t the church. Unfortunately the majority of churches severely lack in genuine Christian community and fellowship. For genuine Christian community to take place, those participating must be willing to be transparent. If transparency doesn’t take place, then intimacy will be difficult. And without intimacy, there is little community and fellowship and consequently believers are not edified and the Body of Christ and the “manifold wisdom of God” is not displayed to the world. Christians must be willing to give of themselves and their things.  

We desire genuine Christian community. Do you?