What community means to me, in the context of my faith.
There was a time when I considered community largely irrelevant to my faith journey. Spirituality was, to me, an individual pursuit and something that one shouldn’t burden other people with, because they were on their own individual faith journeys of one kind or another. It’s only been in the past couple of years that I’ve come to understand that I had it backwards; our own individual faith journeys - for Christians in particular - are meant to be pursued in the context of community. Relationship with other people is essential to the Christian faith.
It took me a while to accept that; I’m a big fan of the westernized belief in the primacy of the self, and the romanticized ideal of rugged individualists forging their own paths through a country with limitless opportunity and an American Dream just beyond the horizon. Depending on other people, and admitting you needed them felt weak in that context.
Earlier this year, my church finished what was an almost two-year long sermon series on the Acts of the Apostles, the fifth book in the New Testament which chronicles the founding of the Christian Church and its spread throughout the Roman Empire. The goal was to take lessons from what the early church did, and apply those lessons to our present-day context. Studying the Book of Acts in such granular detail was a really transformative experience for me, and it was the start of my recognition of how integral the concept of community (both an internal church community, and the external relationship of the church to the larger community) is to the Christian faith.
Since that sermon series, I’ve tried to put myself out there into my community more, and the results have been incredible. I’ve gotten to know new, amazing people. I’ve bonded with some of them at their highest highs, and with others at their lowest lows. I’ve felt known when I walk into a room, and loved just for being who I am.
This push into community actually culminated in my sharing my testimony in front of the church two Sundays ago, and getting baptized this past Sunday. Through that process, six others also made the decision to get baptized, and nearly fifty people from the church ended up going with us down to the beach after service to do the baptisms in the ocean. Among the others who were baptized were people who responded to my testimony and a couple who felt compelled in the moment to join the others. That was a really defining moment for our community, because what happened was inspired and fueled by those in our community having a heart to share with and trust in one another, and it resulted in something that was far more glorious than anything I could have planned for myself. I know that because the thing I was planning for myself was a quiet baptism with just the pastor and my family around ... but that would have paled in comparison to what the experience eventually became once the community was involved.
In Christianity, it’s clear that there’s a time and place for quiet reflection, personal spiritual development, and an individual journey into faith. But our modern world also has a problem with loneliness. The Surgeon General of the United States literally published a formal advisory earlier this year titled, Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation which details why social connection matters, the benefits of community, and the actual physical health risks associated with extended periods of isolation and loneliness.
Christianity is at its best when it’s countercultural. When its radical approach to love and acceptance and relationships truly stands out from what the rest of the world is doing and gives people the hope for a better way of living. A lot of that has gotten lost over the recent decades, especially in America, where Christianity has become the predominant cultural influence and, like all vested interests, has in many cases turned toward protecting and growing its own power. The reality, though, is that Christianity isn’t about those who already have those things; it’s for the people who don’t.
When our church was just starting out, it was a collection of small house churches who - during prayer times - had a simple rule: “You’re either receiving prayer, or you’re giving it.” The idea was that nobody’s supposed to be on the sidelines; you’re either the one in need of prayer (in which case you receive), and everyone else’s job is to be the ones supplying those prayers. I see the other ideals of a Christian life the same way. As a religion that is supposed to love and take care of the less fortunate, you either are one of the less fortunate (in which case your job is to receive prayer, grace, generosity, etc. from others), or you’re more of the more fortunate (in which case your job is to use your good fortune for the benefit of those who don’t also have it). Either way, it’s a clear call for community. You can’t care for others (or be cared for yourself) if you’re not in community with them.
There are certainly times where I don’t want to be a part of a community. I have pretty strong introvert tendencies, and I’m a fairly private person. It’s hard to let people in, and I often find myself saying, “I’m pretty sure I can handle that on my own.” And while there may be a time and place for those sentiments and personal moments, God unquestionably calls Christians into community, with both other Christians and non-Christians alike.
One of the most incredible things I’ve gotten from leaning more into community recently has been that I really do feel less alone and isolated. I really do feel like others care about me and I feel seen for the things I do (and just for being who I am). And I really do take joy in getting to know others and help walk with them, whether they’re celebrating on a mountaintop, or struggling with something in a valley. There’s nothing more comforting than knowing that your community will show up for you, and that they can trust you to show up for them.
Of course, all of this assumes you’ve found the right community. I’ve definitely been a part of some bad communities, and they can be incredibly toxic and damaging. It’s important to find a community that isn’t just an ideological match, but one that lives out your same values and interests. The good news, if you’re a Christian in America, is that there are approximately 400,000 Christian churches in this country at this very moment. Chances are, if you’re not already part of a good Christian community, you can find one!
Written For: "Share Your Faith"
Prompt: Community. What does community mean to you? Do you enjoy being a part of a community, or would you rather go it alone?