Pursuing Your People"God has something rich in store for our communities."
“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night…” begins the unofficial United States Postal Service motto, a sentiment that I believe also applies to the spiritual discipline of community.
My husband and I have led a weekly small group for five years in our home. We can say without a doubt that the call to serve, share life and bear with other believers stands no chance against the forces that try to keep us from living on mission together.
And as Coloradans, we truly don’t allow snowy conditions to keep us from meeting together. We understand that not everyone has had a positive experience in fellowship with other believers. Perhaps people were uninviting or there were too many cliques. Other times, you may have experienced poor leadership and direction. I get it. Having been a part of small group communities for two decades, I have seen it all. Which is why our family committed to making a community culture that focused less on the individual and more on the good of the entire group.
The spiritual discipline of community is not just a hang out, it is God’s design for His people to live a full life. Jesus prays for His followers to “become perfectly one” (John 17:23, ESV). Why? Because Jesus knows the richness of the union between Himself and God—and He longs for us to experience the same fellowship with Him and with each other.
BIBLICAL COMMUNITY VS. FRIENDSHIP
It’s always important to note the differences between friendship and community—which one are we submitting to? Friendship is a beautiful gift between two people that have many common interests and find themselves in easy contexts to connect, perhaps because they are walking through the same stage of life.
Friendship to me is a person I feel comfortable to share my joys or struggles with and have received a positive interaction in return. We celebrate and share a lot of life together. We hang out and don’t judge one another for the television we consume—most likely, we are watching the same shows. Friends can be found within a community, that is where many of mine have come from, but the motivation behind friendship differs than the motivation behind the spiritual discipline of biblical community.
Biblical community is a group of people who have been brought together because of their mutual love for Jesus. Whether your community is your church’s small group, your campus ministry, your service team or a small Bible study, they are usually formed simply because people want to share in Jesus’s mission together: love God, love each other and make His gospel known. These folks are most likely not all in the same stage of life, but they do all care about building up their faith.
CHOOSING TO INVEST IN COMMUNITY
In our many years of leading a Bible study, we have witnessed God produce good fruit in people who chose to invest in godly community. It can be so easy to want a community that looks, feels and talks exactly the same way we do. Which is why community is a discipline—we have to learn to respect and care for people who may not be exactly like us. We have to practice habits of serving people when it’s hard and bearing with people when they may not be in the same place spiritually as we are.
God has “arranged each one of the parts in the body just as he wanted” (1 Corinthians 12:18, CSB). We move towards Jesus together when we have concern for the person sitting next to us. Our small group has married couples, older, single women, young, single men, drummers in rock bands, pilots and new mothers. And just when I think someone doesn’t have anything to teach me about God, a testimony from the quietest member convicts me and strengthens my faith.
The discipline for community then is not about finding the “right group of people” but, more simply, committing to a group of people who are “devoted to the apostles’ teachings, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer” (Acts 2:42, CSB). You can find folks already doing this like joining your Fellowship of Christian Athletes club at school or going with a friend to a retreat in the woods. Or create your very own, like we have done. All it takes is one step towards becoming an engaged community member who encourages others to “consider one another in order to provoke love and good works…” (Hebrews 10:24, CSB). We must fight our temptation to avoid or neglect our spiritual communities and instead become men and women who shape our spiritual communities with God’s love.
SHARPENING YOUR COMMUNITY SKILLS
Here are two ways we can begin to sharpen our skills as a faithful community member.
1. Show affection for everyone.
It can be intimidating to bring together strangers and hope you cultivate a spiritual family. Before our Bible study began, we prayed that the people joining would have affection for one another. Affection is what C.S. Lewis calls a love that learns to appreciate a person despite their quirks:
Affection teaches “us first to notice, then to endure, then to smile at, then to enjoy, and finally to appreciate the people who ‘happen to be there…’ (Four Loves).
Try to see a piece of God in everyone—we were all made in His image, after all (Genesis 1:26). Don’t get too disgruntled when your community isn’t what you thought it would be at first—we all could use second chances. Instead, be patient and give it your best by engaging in the people God has placed right in front of you.
2. Use your gifts generously.
We, as the body of Christ, need every person to do their part. “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose” (1 Corinthians 12:18, ESV). We can use our gifts to strengthen a community or withhold our gifts and disable a community. Identify what you can give and give it generously.
Though it may be overlooked, an invitation to a meal can change someone’s entire week. Even being willing to pray for one another, reading Scripture when you gather and working through your local campus ministry’s teachings are valuable gifts for deep fellowship. The gift you give does not have to be big and flashy; it is usually the smaller things that have the biggest impact.
God has something rich in store for our communities. Our community has survived for as long as it has because people carried our original vision and gone above and beyond. Doing life together has been a beautiful picture of God’s faithfulness to His people. “Neither snow, nor rain,” nor (you fill in the blank here) can keep you from creating something meaningful with your community.
For Further Study:
- The Company We Keep by Jonathan Holmes
- The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele A. Calhoun
- The Friending Podcast hosted by Noelle Rhodes
Read Bailey’s feature article, “Just Say Yes,” featured in Peer’s June 2019 issue.
Bailey T. Hurley is everyone’s favorite community cheerleader. She takes simple, creative ideas and turns them into easy rhythms for women to confidently pursue their people despite their busy schedules. You can find more resources and say hello at baileythurley.com.
Editor’s Note: Need help building community on campus? Here are some actionable steps:
- Attend campus events—the campus ministry, local church outreach, and student fairs are just three examples.
- Reach out to your fellow classmates or dorm mates. Talk to the person sitting next to you in class.
- Join a club at your school: Fellowship of Christian Athletes an intramural sport, or your major-specific club are just three examples.
- Reach out to someone you know already; don’t be afraid to invite them to lunch.