A People on Purpose
Words by Katelyn Sullins // Image by Izzie Rae
This is the fourth blog post in our series "Abide: Grace-Fueled Practices of Spiritual Discipline." Click the links below to read the previous posts.
My first brush with community was less than attractive. The night before had involved relationship break-ups, trashcan punch, lampshade dances, a series of slurred, regrettable statements that my roommates and I couldn’t quite remember, and that nagging feeling that Christians were supposed to be above this.
The silent stupor was broken the next morning as one roommate slammed a jumbo bag of bagels onto the coffee table, shouting, “House meeting!” The ensuing bounty of bagels, Gatorade, and aspirin was nothing short of sacred. Through gracious, bold words, that same roommate delivered the gospel with a side of sesame seed carbs by gently unraveling the layers of desire that had brought about the previous night’s antics. As the layers were laid bare, our friend helped us see that we were desperate for connection, and reminded us that what we were seeking we already had through Christ.
Ironically, that’s when I first experienced community. We could have laughed off that night and chocked it up as a low point, overlooking what clearly needed to be confessed and repented, for the sake of solidarity. But one friend loved us enough to call it out and walk through it with us. Over bagels and aspirin, I experienced my need for community in the discipline of continually yielding my heart to the Lord.
A People of God
Community often begins with a mutual interest or shared experience. For the believer, community begins with a shared identity.
I like how my church back in Dallas puts it: “We often see community as a thing—a sought for commodity that can be attained—but this is not what we mean. Gospel-centered community is a people—a group of individuals who come together with the sole purpose of making much of Jesus” (John 17:21–23, Acts 2). We are made a “people” by God. He called us his own. This is our shared identity: God’s. He accomplished this through the sacrifice of his son, Jesus. Our response to this and how it plays out among each other is a gift of God to his people, and we call it ‘community’” (1 Pet. 1, Hos. 2, John 3, Rom. 15:1–7, Heb. 10:24–25).
Living in fellowship with believers invites others into our mess to help us navigate cloudy circumstances. This undulating life is confusing enough on our own; we need additional sets of eyes to remind us who we are and from what we have been rescued. This is why fellowship within the Church is one of the primary means the Lord uses to keep our hearts yielded toward him. We need each other. Dietrich Bonhoeffer defines the goal of community as such: “they meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation.” We were made with a longing in our bones for community and cannot deny our design to belong.
Designed to Belong
Scripture tells us we were made to belong, but sin distorted this desire (Gen 1–3). Longing resides within us because deep relationships echo the design and nature of God. The Godhead dwells in intimate community, and though we were created to fully enjoy and function this same way, when sin entered the picture, all of our relationships were fractured (Gen. 1, 3; Romans 6). It is both within our nature and only possible through Jesus Christ that we enjoy Christian community. This is why, in part, it is such a powerful, God-glorifying act when we cultivate relationships around the gospel.
Master Plan of Community
Ultimately, as we commune, we echo the original shout of creation: We were made for his purpose and glory, molded in his image, and destined for perfect intimacy with him in eternity (though it is imperfect here on earth). Community reflects God’s communal nature, tethers us to sources of truth in his Word and his people, and proclaims his love to the world by the way we love one another. In theory, he could have chosen any means to further his reconciliation to humanity; yet, he chose us, broken, messy, bagel-eating vessels. He chose to make our need for community a vital catalyst in the multiplication of his gospel.
Bonhoeffer goes so far as to say, “Christianity means community.” If we are of the family of God, we are a people defined by our unity based in our shared identity; and this must change the way we live.
Practicing the discipline of community looked different living in a house full of girls than it does in this season of my life. These days, my husband and I fight for intimate community by pursuing intimacy over harmony, and deferring to each other’s needs out of love. Community looks like Friday mornings with neighborhood moms and singles, asking the hard questions. It looks like Thursday nights with twenty-somethings figuring out how to date well and worship God while adulting. It looks like calling up a friend for help one more time. It looks like praying for people, doing normal rhythms of life together and vulnerably committing to get into the “mess” with them. It looks like gracious confrontations over aspirin and everything bagels.
Those same friends and roommates from the bagel escapade are the same girls I see at least once a year to remember the Lord’s faithfulness and continue practicing obedience together. What are the rhythms in your life that keep you tethered to God’s people, sacrificially investing in their well-being, while leaving room for their Holy Spirit-led influence in your life?
If you find yourself without “people,” look to the Church. Join a small group, or start your own if your church leadership is on board. Do you go bowling every Wednesday night because it’s your jam? Bring people along with you! People are starving for connection, but very few people boldly instigate the opportunity to connect without strings attached.
Below are further resources on practicing the discipline of community:
Henry Nouwen, Making All Things New
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
Tim Keller, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness