About 6 months ago, I showed up to a Life Group launch at my church… just a random Tuesday night in the middle of winter. Leading up to this night, my plan had been to launch my own group at this particular launch, but I felt challenged and convicted by God to join a group instead. So I showed up, looked through the list of available groups, and put a little star next to the ONLY women’s group in my age/location range. With a crazy schedule of school and work, I only had one night available, so I figured that finding a group that worked was going to be a long shot. I walked up to the table corresponding with that ONE group that I had marked on my list and, lo and behold, they met on the ONE night that I had available.
Here’s the thing, I do NOT believe in coincidence or chance… As I elaborated on in one of my recent posts, I believe in a Sovereign God who is often times up to FAR MORE than we know or comprehend.
Let me tell you, this particular group of ladies have been such an incredible blessing in my life, one that could only have been orchestrated by God Himself… and God has worked through this group to teach me so much about community, and through that community, about Himself.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:25
Admittedly, for much of my life I saw Christian community as a requirement to fill. I saw my participation in the Body of Christ as something that I did for God, just another thing on the “faith checklist.” So for much of my life, I dutifully put on my “Sunday best,” shook a few hands, smiled and sang along with all the songs, and then went home and checked “community” off of my list. I knew that there was probably more to it than that, but I figured that as long as I “filled the requirement” I was doing ok.
In my 25 years of life, I’ve developed a high degree of independence… some have even call me a “loner.” But I’ve always known in my heart that at the core of who I am, I was designed for relationship, I was created to be in community. The struggle is that truly authentic and redemptive community is often messy and difficult, it can even be painful at times. So I’ve treated it much like I treat visiting the doctor; it was something that I knew I should do (and unlike going to the doctor, something that I truly desired to do), but that was easier and more comfortable to just avoid. See, I’ve been hurt by other people before – and if you’ve been living on this planet very long, then you have probably experienced that same pain. But more and more I’m realizing that to live outside of redemptive community is to live outside of God’s intent for my life.
“Our relational need to know and be loved by others was etched into the very image of God within us. Therefore, community is never optional – it is necessary for being what God designed us to be.” – Julie Gorman, Community That Is Christian
As juvenile and rudimentary as it may seem, I’ve had to come to realize that community is not something that God placed on a “faith checklist,” something that He wants us to participate in for His sake… No, it is a gift that He gave us, albeit one that has been severely impacted by the fall of humankind. Because of the reality of sin, human relationships are difficult – but they can still be a beautiful light in what has become a very dark world.
Community is a core component of the very nature of God, reflected in the mind boggling concept of the Triune Godhead… and we are a people who have been created in His image. So our capacity and our innate need for community allows us to reflect and, maybe more importantly, to experience an integral and beautiful aspect of our Creator.
I’ve come to realize that God reveals Himself through community, and that He does much of His work in our lives through the community we find ourselves a part of.
“God did not delegate the process to people at all. He wore people as his uniforms. He came to live inside people and then lived out his wishes and will through them in a mystery called the Body of Christ […] many people feel disconnected from God because they have not been connected to his Body.” – Cloud & Townsend, How People Grow
So for the past 6 months, I have found myself a part of a community… a flawed and imperfect community, full of broken and messed up people (like myself). And true to His character, God has worked through this flawed and imperfect community in powerful ways (whether or not they’ve even been aware of how God is using them).
- God has used this community to speak powerful words of truth and healing over my heart, combatting lies that had long been carved into the recesses of my heart and mind.
- God has used this community to show me, in the flesh, a glimpse of His great love… a love that goes deeper than I could ever hope to comprehend this side of eternity.
- God has used this community to help me experience just a fraction of the acceptance and belonging that are mine in Christ Jesus.
- God has used this community to help me begin to see myself the way that He sees me, as time and time again they remind me of my true identity in Christ.
- God has used this community to teach me that engaging in redemptive community isn’t just about growing closer to other human beings, but about growing closer to Him.
I’m coming to believe that God works through community to give us a taste of what was ours before sin came into the picture, and a foreshadowing of what will be ours again when Christ returns and restores all that was lost. He uses community to give us a tangible experience of the things that are far beyond our comprehension, like the depths of His love and grace, and our acceptance as His dearly beloved children. He uses community to sanctify us, to shape and transform us into the people He always intended for us to be.
“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” – 1 Corinthians 13:12
Community is a beautiful gift from the hand of God, but like just about everything else in our faith journey, it requires our participation. It requires us to take risks, to press in, and to put ourselves “out there” with other broken people, risking rejection and pain. The bottom line is that it is often difficult, uncomfortable, and messy. I know full well the temptation to “play it safe,” to use independence as a shield against the inherent risks involved in truly engaging in community. But to “play it safe” is to forfeit such a beautiful component of God’s redemptive plan for our lives… it is to forfeit the growth and the joy that God meant for us to experience through redemptive community. Our Creator created us to be in community, and what we stand to gain by engaging fully in that community is more than worth the risk involved.
“A ship in harbor is safe – but that is not what ships are built for.” – John A. Shedd