One great myth of church life is that community is something we stumble upon. In an ideal world, community is simply out there somewhere, waiting to be discovered like lost treasure on a map, or the elusive ‘somewhere over the rainbow’ pot of gold.
All you have to do is find the right people, join the right group, or become involved with the right ministry.
That’s why so many go from relationship to relationship, cell group to cell group, or even church to church, looking for the perfect community we think is just around the corner.
The belief is when we find the ideal community, we can simply fit right in and enjoy its benefits. It’s not something you need to work at. In fact, if you’ve to work at it, then it musn’t be genuine.
This mindset runs rampant in our day:
If you have to work on your marriage, you must not be right for each other;
Workplace relationships less than perfect? You must have the wrong boss, bad colleagues or something is just wrong with your office environment;
If your neighbours give you trouble, you must have picked the wrong neighbourhood to live in;
If you have to work on relating to folks in church, well, there are obviously problems with them, or even the leadership!
This is unrealistic and unbiblical. Community is not something we discover, it’s something we build. Our focus shouldn’t be on finding the right mate, right job, right neighbourhood or right cell group – it’s making them the environment God intended.
Community is not something to be discovered, it’s forged. That’s doesn’t mean no wise and informed choices about the relationships in our lives or sticking with dysfunctional communities. My point is – all relationships of worth are products of time and effort.
The Bible talks about the need to build community. It doesn’t exist just by spending 90 minutes in the same room weekly. That’s why principles are given at length on how to work through conflict and interpersonal sin.
It’s why relational skills are articulated in the Bible and issues such as anger towards a brother are instructed to be dealt with. The dynamics of honouring, being kind towards – and loving – one another are explored in depth as well.
Studies show that good relationships lead to health and happiness. Is that why we feel invigorated when someone connects with us over a meaningful conversation? Why we feel the tension and stress after an argument, or how much sleep we lose during a period of relational strife?
Relational breakdowns seemed to spike in the pandemic years. But are we more connected to each other with restrictions off?
The Church is uniquely poised, as always, to be the solution to isolation and individualism in our world. Yet, being present week in and out is insufficient – we can gather without truly connecting.
Some allege the need is for less online and more in-person community. I believe the need is to use every available means to foster community, and then cast a biblical vision fo go deeper in our relationships.
Jesus prayed for unity and love among those who share His Name. That would be the ultimate evidence of His Presence and reality in the Church and today’s fragmented world.
As we come to the close of a meaningful Cell Month, may it end our search for an ideal community, and start being a real community one to another!