In this technological era, we have never had more access to communication and connection than ever before. I can text with my friends in New Zealand, which is literally on the other side of the planet, right now and they will instantly be able to respond. Grandparents from North Carolina can Facetime with grandkids in Los Angeles and tell them a bedtime story over a video screen.
However, many psychologists are saying even though we have better tools than ever to connect, more of us than ever feel disconnected in relationships. Music sales are down but concert revenues are way up. Why? I believe it’s because young people want a shared experience that centers around “community”.
Community is a critically important subject in the bible. You’ll find some bible verses about it but a lot of the most important concepts are written in-between the lines of the scripture itself. The fact that the Trinity itself is a community within itself that honors and prefers each other should be our baseline for God’s importance on the subject. God’s design for people is that we would have powerful, refreshing community that allows us to grow closer to Jesus.
I don’t believe there is a perfect formula for having community. I have been involved in all sorts of Jesus communities over the years, everything from YoungLife to YWAM to the local church to Renew. Whereas these are all distinctly different, I have noticed a few commonalities to rich spiritual communities I’ve experienced and observed.
1. Gathering around the presence of God in worship & prayer
A community that worships & prays together quickly becomes more intimate together. In worship & prayer are hearts are exposed to the best and deepest place they were designed to be, in the presence of God. We encounter His presence all together in worship. He inhabits the praise of His people (Ps 22:3). In prayer we collectively seek out His heart and pray the topics He desires for his to pray. This is why this is so important to Renew. We believe the foundation of community is people gathered together in prayer and worship, waiting on the presence of God.
2. Do ministry/serve together
One of the quickest ways for you to get plugged in or connected in any community, whether it be your local church, a para-church organization or even just friends is to serve or minister together. Serving a specific ministry will quickly help you connect to what is the heartbeat of what is important about that ministry. Some of my deepest friendships have been forged by standing on the battle lines of ministry with other people. When I was on staff at a church in Washington state we had a prayer ministry that would minister to people from all over the US. Sometimes we would pray for individuals for hours, sharing encouraging prophetic words or helping them through circumstances. Often I was paired with someone else at the church I didn’t know. However, after ministering for hours together and touching God’s heart for the broken person in front of us…I felt like I knew my prayer ministry partner. We had connected over the trenches of serving and ministering for the sake of the kingdom.
This type of serving doesn’t have to be “super spiritual” either. I’ve often gotten to know great friends and people just by setting up chairs, cleaning up after a service or helping serve a ministry or church. What if Jesus said it was greater to serve than be served not because it was about “greatness”…but rather He knew what was best for our souls and what would help us grow together with others the best.
3. Challenge each other towards greatness with God’s word
One of the best parts of community is growing in a space where you know that you are championed and loved. We are all fallible and growing creatures. However, I’ve never experienced something more powerful in community than someone believing in me more than I believed in myself. I’ve had all sorts of friends challenge me to become more aligned with who God says that I am, both prophetically and what He says about me in His word. I’ve had friends challenge my unbelief, call out my sin, call me higher in strength and tell me that my passivity was not God’s highest for me. I believe a healthy community is one where there is a united agreement where everyone says “I wanna run after God. If you see anything in my life that is not in alignment with the scriptures…I wanna know”. Most of us are so afraid to confront each other. However, the proverbs make it very clear that being corrected and re-aligned to the scripture is more valuable than gold (Prov. 25:12). What would happen if we lived in communities championing each other, but where we knew that everyone had signed up to have their life challenged against the word of God?
4. Real connection is key
How many of us have seen a long lost friend we haven’t seen in a while only to say “Oh man, haven’t seen you in ages…but I’ve kept up with your life on Instagram”. Whereas this statement is true…what we have on that person is information, not connection. Texting, chat apps, social media should mean to an end…not then end itself. If you’re ever dated long distance you know that actually having you relationship over text is a very poor substitute to being in person, or even on the phone. Community happens best in person.
5. Frequency & amount of time
In my observation, the strength and bond of community is directly correlated to the number of reps you can get in meeting. I feel much more connected with my friends that I meet with every week than I do the friend I meet with once a month. More than that, I feel even more connected with the people I live with than the person I meet with once a week. When I was with YWAM we had a 6 month school called DTS ( Discipleship Training School). People would come from all over the world to live together for 3 months of training and then we would all go abroad together for 3 months. The biggest complaint of DTS students going home and trying to get connected to a church is that they didn’t feel as connected to the people they had just finished this 6 month school with. I would often explain that part of that equation was the immersive amount of time they spent with each other. They were 24/7 with each other for 6 months. Let’s say these students spent about 12 hours a day with each other over that 12 months. If you had to replicate the same depth of community by going to church once a week for 1 hour it would take approximately 45 years with the same people to get the same amount of time in community together as one of these students. Now, obviously this is an exaggerated example but I do think it drives home the point that frequency and amount of time in community matters. The quality of that time can fluctuate obviously, but overall if you want vibrant community you need to see those people frequently and you need to see them a lot.
1. Write down 3 of the most vibrant communities that you’ve ever participated in. Was it a church group, working at a summer camp, going on a missions trip? What did you love most about those experiences in community? Were there any commonalities between them. Write out your thoughts?
2. On a scale from 1-10 how do you feel about your current state of community? If on the high side, what are you thankful for in your existing community? If on the low side, what are you looking for in community that you’re not getting?
3. How pro-active are you in pursuing community? Somtimes there is a lie that community is something that should pursue us instead of us pursuing it. Often we get our feeling hurt because “no-one is reaching out”, “everyone else is at that bar-b-q on instagram”, etc. Write down 3 things you’re going to do this month to pursue community. Maybe you will be the one to iniated coffee first with that friend. Maybe you should throw the bar-b-que that everyone will instagram. Ask the Lord how you can be pro-active with community this month and making it happen…not waiting for it to happen to you.
-Ryan Kee, RNW Leadership Team