Yesterday after our church’s first service a group of families walked next door to the playground and, as our progeny swarmed the slides and swings, we talked about the cost of community. In the sermon this week, our pastors talked about the cost of Christian community: How we all want to be known, to have “our people”, to go deep with a group of Christians who know God for real – but so many of us forget the cost.
We want community without vulnerability and accountability, and that’s just not how it works. One friend and I shared our uphill battle to form community over the years: Unreciprocated hosting, uncomfortable coffee dates, try-and-fail friendships, small groups that began and then ended, relationships that drifted apart. Community is work and we should expect that. We should come to relationships expecting to do the hard work of relationship.
But we should also expect that, in being known and being close to people, there will be a cost. That cost will be – in a sense – our freedom. This is what our pastors pointed out. You can’t be completely “free” in cultural terms (no boundaries, no commitments, no accountability or confrontation) and also go deep with people who share your values. Community requires interdependence and vulnerability. Yikes!
I get so many questions about community in this online space. Statistics tell us we are lonelier than ever before while being more connected than we’ve ever been. When I look around at the beautiful community I’ve been given, I see several things that formed it:
- Prayer. I have prayed for these people faithfully – before I knew them. And not just me, but others in our community! We prayed for people who shared our values and life stage. I was incredibly specific in that area – as I try to be when I pray! And years into this, years of continuing to invite, extend and connect to the local church, that prayer is being answered.
- Reciprocation: Many people complain of no reciprocation to hospitality or community efforts, and while I’ve been there, there are a few things I’d say. First, many people need time to plan their schedule – last minute invitations often don’t work and will result in a higher rejection rate. Similarly, invitations should be specific (date, time, expectation) so people have to respond yes or no. But ultimately, reciprocation will happen with people who see THEIR need for community and value it. Which brings us back to prayer! Pray for people who value this and who make an effort to prioritize it. Then do what you can, on your end, to facilitate it.
- Grace: Legalism is the community killer. When people elevate second and third tier theological issues to the level of core doctrine, they often can’t maintain friendship. How can you be friends with someone you believe is in sin for where their child goes to school or what clothes they wear? Josh and I don’t parent exactly like our friends. Not all our friends homeschool. We don’t all agree on second and third tier theology issues. But we are united around Christ and our core values for raising kids who love Him and know Him. This grace makes friendship possible and makes up for the gaps of difference.
- Love for God: Ultimately the unity of the church, and true community, is formed through the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts. He bonds us to one another. As I walked with a friend today, she told me she can almost physically sense when she meets another Christian – before they even open their mouth! I’ve felt that too. Love for God bonds Christians to one another with a closeness and depth that, once experienced, is impossible to forget.
My encouragement to all who long for community is this: Be prepared to do the work, and to do it a long time. But pray as hard as you work at it, and watch God be faithful. I’ve seen Him come through in multiple churches, in multiple states, in all my life stages. He always comes through on this request! But it has a cost, and we have to be ready to pay it.
Community requires vulnerability, and it’s the best risk you’ll ever take.