Community in Focus
By Grant Dibden, first published in Compass, Winter 2019
I used to play a lot of sport before I got injured and old. As a young man I did athletics training five days a week and competed on weekends with three colleagues and our coach. Later, I practiced squash four days a week and played in competitions. I trained at lunch or after work, but always with someone. Now I want to get fit, but it just doesn’t happen despite having more flexibility with my schedule. What’s the difference? There is nobody to train with.
Community and encouragement are so important to keep us going. Being in a community is vital in helping us labour for a lifetime. But it needs to be a community that values disciple-making and generational ministry. It would not have helped my squash game to be in a tennis group because tennis and squash are quite different. Too much time practising tennis would have made my squash worse. There are two critical aspects of any biblical community. One is to reach out to those pre-believers around us as all believers are ‘sent’ people (John 17:18-23). The other is to grow in our love for God and our neighbour (Matthew 22:36-40). While these aspects overlap, it’s the second aspect, the inner health of a biblical community that I will focus on.
Love must characterise our lives…
Love must characterise our lives in such a way that it is visible to everyone in our community and to those outside looking in. This is what God desires and commands. The importance and urgency of being people who authentically and actively love cannot be overstated. It is not only an act to perform or a priority to complete, but encompasses the people we are to become. Love identifies us as disciples of the One who surrendered everything to bring us to God and must characterise every aspect of our lives. When this is true, the effects will be tangible and widespread across our relationships.
Community means doing life together. Connecting frequently with various members at a soccer game, in a bar, over a BBQ, at birthday parties, or just dropping in for a chat. It’s not enough to meet once a week. Biblical community is where you get to know people well enough to share at deep levels, living out the “one anothers” of scripture.¹
So how do we get there?
It starts with our thinking and our heart. Do we see every person, believers and pre-believers, as of immeasurable worth created by God in His image? Do we see ourselves as forgiven people, forgiven so much by Jesus that we must forgive others? (Matthew 18:21-35) Are we quick to ask for and receive forgiveness from others? Do we believe that we are to do good to everyone? (Galatians 6:9-10) Are we being transformed by these core convictions?
What does it look like?
As our hearts are transformed, so will our speech and our behaviours, making us more Christ-like. We’ll listen better and well, taking more interest in people. We’ll care, asking about their struggles, doubts, and fears. When led, we’ll share how the gospel has helped us in our own lives. We’ll apply the gospel to ourselves out loud with non-Christians. We’ll encourage people, telling both them and others when they have done well. Our speech will be gracious, seasoned with salt and wholesome, building people up (Colossians 4:6; Ephesians 4:29). We’ll stir them up to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24-25). We’ll seek to understand what the Lord is doing in them by regularly asking questions like, “What has the Lord been revealing to you recently?” “How has God been encouraging you these days?” “What has God been teaching you about Himself?” “How has the Lord been refining you?” “How can I be praying for you?” And then we’ll pray and follow-up face to face, by text, call, or email. This way we keep God as the centre of the friendship.
Biblical community is authentic. It is made up of real people who love and are loved in all the messiness. It’s a place where mistakes can be made and doubts and questions encouraged. Trusting others with my real self is risky. But confession to one another, asking for forgiveness, dealing with deep issues, and being accountable leads to maturity and encouragement to grow in holiness. People encourage each other to become who they really are in Christ – saints.
We do this in humility, with gentleness, knowing that we are all saved by grace alone. Gentleness will make others feel at ease or restful in our presence. Gentleness will demonstrate respect for the dignity of the other person but, where necessary, seek to change a wrong opinion or attitude by persuasion and kindness. Gentleness will speak the truth in love.
The Bible says it all in Ephesians 4:1-2 “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
Community means doing life together.
¹Romans 12:10-13 12:15-16; 13:8; 14:13; Galatians 5:13, 6:2; Ephesians 4:2-3; 4:32; 5:19-21; Philippians 2:2-4; Col 3:12-14; 1 Thessalonians 5:11, 15; James 5:9