The church is not a building or an event, but a people. The Church is the called out people of God, a holy community made up of redeemed sinners. Unfortunately often the emphasis of church is on the Sunday event or the building itself and not on the community. In many churches it is not hard to show up incognito, hide out in the back, and leave as soon as the service is over all the while remaining completely unknown. It is possible to go to church without participating in the community of the church. For those who do seek to build relationships with other church members, often those relationships are on the superficial level. We may talk about the weather, how our favorite college football team performed over the weekend, or some hobby interest, but rarely to we break through the brick wall of superficiality. Isn’t biblical community more than this?
We wall tend to long for authentic community. We want it. We need it. Yet, a culture of authentic community in the church can be hard to foster. There is the great pressure to present your life as an ideal Christian, so we hide our struggles and slap on our plastic smiles. The pressure to have it all together has turned the church into an actors guild perfecting their religious masks. But play acting is the death of authentic Christian Community. When vulnerability is replaced by a hypocritical masquerade the church is lost. The church is to be a bastion of hope for redeemed sinners not an elitist ivory tower for the self-righteous. The church is made up of self-confessed sinners who have been made righteous in Christ Jesus. If any people on the planet should have the freedom to be authentic, it should be Christians. For their sin has been covered by the blood of the lamb.
So how can you help create a culture of authentic community in your church? How can you help build meaningful relationships with other Christians for the mutual building up of the body? Let me share with you six ways.
1. Be Intentional
Go deeper through perceptive questions. Rather than a quick “Hello! Pretty cold weather today”, ask questions that encourage people to open up. “How have things been going this week?” or “How is your mom who has been fighting cancer?” or “What can I be praying of you this upcoming week?” or “What has God been teaching you recently through His word?” Ask questions that allow you to dig deeper that creates opportunity to encourage and remind one another of the Gospel and its implications.
2. Be Hospitable
Find opportunities to invite others into the rhythm of your life. If you are running to the store, invite someone to go along with you. If you are making a delicious apple pie for dinner, invite someone over to enjoy it with you. Invite people into the routine of your life, all the while being intentional in your conversations, going deeper together in your relationship with Jesus Christ.
3. Be Available
Community cannot be manufactured through planning. Sometimes there may be a friend who needs you to drop what your doing an pray with them. There may be a crisis such as a death in the family that they need your support. Someone may have had a terrible day at work and they need a friend to talk to that night sharing their sorrows. If we are going to foster community in our lives and in our churches we must learn to be less busy. We must learn to not so over schedule ourselves that we don’t have time to be available for those who need us. Intentionally leave time open and unscheduled so you can drop what your doing and be there for others.
4. Be Teachable
Some people seem to think they have it all together. You start talking about an issue, and they seem to have it all figured out. Yet, in genuine Gospel-community everyone should take a posture of humility and teachability. We have a lot to learn from one another and others may be able to see blind spots that we are missing. If we come across as unteachable and prideful, than community will be non-existent. Go to others for advise or counsel. Ask others how they would handle the situation your facing. Not only will your conversations be richer, but God may teach you something through your brother or sister that you might not have known had you keep yapping your mouth.
5. Be Forgiving
When we enter into deep and authentic relationships with other believers, we leave ourselves exposed to be hurt. Often times other people may say something that deeply wounds us. When those times happen it is vital that we be quick to offer forgiveness. We we sit an allow others offenses to fester, the poison of bitterness creeps into our hearts, eating away at our soul. So when others hurt you be quick to forgive and quick to seek reconciliation.
6. Be Vulnerable
You have to be willing to let down your guard and open up. It is scary, its risky, its terrifying, yet essential for Gospel community. Be courageous enough to let people see the real you. Share with a sister in Christ about a struggle you are facing. Be aggressive in asking for prayer from a good friend. Share the struggles of your heart or encourage another with a difficult lesson God has taught you in the past. When we let down our guard and are vulnerable with one another, authentic community is the result.
May these six things help you as you seek to foster authentic community in your life and in the life of your church. May we as Christians not settle for anything less than authentic, honest, and vulnerable community. May we be so bold as to find our identity and worth in Christ that the fear of man that so often hinders true community be put to death. As we throw our religious masks to their graves we will find the joy of that wonderful community of grace with which God has gifted us, the local church.
What other things would you encourage others to find authentic community? What does community look like in your relationships and in your church?