I am convinced that community can be one of the most difficult things to obtain. Deep friendships, meaningful relationships, vulnerable conversations are what many of us desperately long for, but frustratingly cannot find.
On the flip side I think community is one of the most easiest things to talk about. It has become a buzz word among us along with other words that cause a stir in our hearts such as belong, connect, do life, and walk with others.
I’ve been a leader in churches with small groups, churches made up of small groups, event driven churches, and program based churches and I’ve discovered one thing time after time. No matter how much opportunity is created there is no way around the hard work of community being cultivated.
The most forgotten components of community which are often not talked about or addressed are the very reasons people are confronted with barriers that prevent them from breaking through to community. These components must be factored in your quest for community, or your expectation for it will continually end in frustration. They are critical to cultivating healthy community in your life.
Community is a Spiritual Discipline – Dare I say that you must approach community just like you do your devotional life. It is a discipline that must be given daily attention. A passage of scripture in the book of Acts, which is often quoted when teaching on the subject, reveals some incredible principles that will help you understand what it will take to obtain a life enriched with community.
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostle’s teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. – Acts 2:42
Just a few words into the verse we run into the phrase continually devoted. Notice it doesn’t read instantly. If you look into the deeper meaning of the original language you will encounter words such as adhere, devoted, constant, steadfastly attentive, unremitting care, all the time, persevere, not to faint, courageous, readiness and waiting on constantly.
I hate to be the one to break it to you, but there is no thing as instant community. The deeper definition of this phrase helps to discover the discipline it takes to obtain it.
- My quest for community is something I have to adhere myself to and stick with it. The discipline of community is developed and cultivated over time. Like the person who works out 3 times a week, but doesn’t stick to their diet, the results are minimal. If your going to maximize the disciplines of community it is going to require more than a Sunday service and an occasional appearance at a small group. You have to adhere to a relational routine if your going to obtain community.
- My quest for community requires devotion and loyalty to others. This leads be me to believe that community must be a selfless pursuit. If our quest becomes about us, our needs, and our problems our biggest obstacle to community becomes ourselves. We must be devoted and loyal to others first! It is out of the “others principle” that we experience the depths of community. I talk to so many folks that have an expectation of what others should be doing for them, but they themselves have done nothing for others. It’s as though they are waiting for others to act, when the discipline of community requires us to actively wait on or serve others.
- My quest for community requires me to be attentive and aware. One of the things that I practice on a regular basis is being constantly and steadfastly attentive and aware of people’s needs around me. I am actually known for being a resourceful person when someone needs help from someone or with something. I have a created a relational Rolodex over the years that can be resourceful in helping others. Need a welder? I know one. Need a trusted real estate agent? Got it. Need a handyman? Let me contact him for you. Need a job? Send your resume to me. When you pay attention to the needs of others around you, you will become aware of endless opportunities to step into community.
- My quest for community takes courage. If you’ve pursued community at all you’ve been confronted by feelings of awkwardness, insecurity and inadequacy. These feelings often cause us to shrink back, make excuses and say things like, “I tried”, “I couldn’t connect”, and “I felt out of place.” I’m not discounting any of these feelings because they are often real and difficult, but I also believe they are divine clues of our deficiency in pursuing this discipline in our own strength. The spiritual discipline of community is exactly that; it is spiritual. Whenever we approach community we must do so in confident and courageous faith empowered by the Holy Spirit. If I’m pursuing community filtered through my past failures and disappointments I have already set my expectations for my efforts to fail. Yet, if I pursue community confidently and courageously I am looking for the Holy Spirit to bring me into a new beginning, a new season, a new normal. I’m am now convinced that God is control of my future relationships and that my failed attempts were the foundation to my success.
- My quest for community must have room for the spontaneous. I really love to have a schedule and a plan (I’m a planner), but I discovered if I leave no room for spontaneity I really narrow my opportunities to experience community. Let me give you a few examples of what I’m talking about that might help. The other night there was a conflict in someone’s schedule that prevented us from getting coffee. That conflict could have been and excuse not to connect, but instead my friend asked if I’d be willing instead to drive with him on an errand (the source of the conflict) so we could still get together. It wasn’t over coffee, but it ended up being 45 minutes of conversation in his car that worked out well. Later that week my wife was trying to calendar a dinner date when it became apparent there were no convenient dates that were going to work. We decided that we desired the connection more than we desired the convenience. We put the calendar aside and went with are conviction to connect as soon as possible instead of putting it off for at least 2 weeks. The quest for community requires a readiness to say yes to any opportunity.
Community is a spiritual discipline. Stick to it, devote yourself to it, become aware of others first, and know that your quest is not for the faint of heart. It takes courageous faith because if it wasn’t difficult it wouldn’t be rewarded.
What do you think about community being a spiritual discipline?