What does real Christian community look like?

In Genesis 2:18 God says that it isn’t good “for the man to be alone”. So he gave us families and communities.

We are made in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27), and God is a relationship: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Human beings have been created for relationships. This is so profoundly true that if you separate even the healthiest person from human contact for long enough, they will lose their mind.

We have clear evidence for this from studying the effects of solitary confinement in prisons and orphanages in Romania. Forty per cent of those deprived of human contact as infants and toddlers in those orphanages developed significant psychiatric conditions and developmental disorders as teenagers.

God designed the family to meet this basic need: to be the safest place for raising children – a place of love, security and belonging for every individual. But because we are all broken by sin, God has also given us communities to participate in.

What is community? It’s where we can also find belonging, love, security, and a place of mental, emotional, and spiritual growth. It’s a place to pursue a purpose, build things, advance our understanding of the world, learn together and create a place centred on a shared vision and set of beliefs.

Community is central to the Christian faith – just as important as family. God’s framing of the church as Christ’s bride demonstrates how vital community is to God.

What does the Bible teach us about Christian community?

A Christian community isn’t a club – a bunch of people who have found their answer to salvation and now sit around enjoying themselves as they wait to go to heaven (see Matthew 28:16-20).

Christian communities are not a haven or a refuge from the world, although we do love and care for each other. They are not about self-fulfilment or self-indulgence. They are the engine room of discipleship.

Christian communities are not designed to be a club of safety.

All discipling activity hinges on the strength and depth of our relationship with Jesus (cf. John 15:3) and the spiritual and emotional maturity we develop through our relationship with the Holy Spirit in community (Ephesians 4).

The longer we immerse ourselves in Jesus’ teachings and allow God to work on us, the more we love what he loves (Ephesians 2:10). To follow Jesus means to join him in the task of reaching the lost and growing his kingdom, according to our individual calling, gifts, talents and maturity in community together.

Christian communities are not designed to be a club of safety. They only operate effectively when their focus is external to themselves. Navel-gazing churches full of people meeting their own needs will never change the world.

The oxygen of Christian communities

The word we translate as hope in the New Testament is the Greek word “elpis”, which means “anticipating something with confidence”. A person with New Testament hope confidently looks forward to what is coming.

Hope is the oxygen our hearts need to keep on loving others … and hope begins in suffering.

In Romans 5:1-5 Paul gives us a profound insight into hope. Hope for the Christian is in God’s glorious plan and promises. God’s glory manifests through his plan for salvation and the reconciliation of all creation to himself.

Hope is the oxygen our hearts need to keep on loving others as part of participating in God’s plan. Hope is the confident anticipation of the fulfilment of all that God has promised, and hope begins in suffering. The elpis (hope) in fulfilling God’s promises and plans is founded on suffering, perseverance and character.

What is a community of hope?

In a community of hope, people find belonging, relationships and hope in the biblical sense. Suffering is shared, and people are supported to persist through the character-building journey that leads to the ultimate resurrection hope we all find in Jesus – a hope validated through his own resurrection. Communities of hope forge and strengthen disciples to stand against the enemy’s schemes. They are a cove where a follower of Jesus is changed and sent out to change the world.

Relationships in communities of hope can’t be a facade.

But none of this works without authenticity. Authenticity binds people together in a healthy community. We are called to a life of fearless authenticity. It is the only way we can endure and grow through suffering together.

When Jesus said to take up your cross and follow me, he precisely meant this. We all carry a cross, but we don’t all have to carry it through the public square like Jesus did. If we live in an authentic community, we must share our cross so others can help us carry the burden. Relationships in communities of hope can’t be a facade of pretence where people try to Facebook their lives to each other; for churches to be communities of hope, they must begin with authenticity.

Planting communities of hope

A good friend of mine, Graeme Hush, describes planting a community of hope as “being Jesus where you are”. It is the best description I have heard of what we are called to do and be. In more recent times, people have called this micro-church. The vision is to plant tiny churches of 10-12 people in every community, workplace, interest group and people group.

I am not too fussed about the model — call it micro-church, organic church, or purpose finders — it doesn’t matter. What matters is being Jesus where you are, living as a Christlike force wherever God has placed you, with deep and uncompromising authenticity. When you do that, communities will form, disciples will grow, and ultimately, God’s kingdom will grow.

It is time for bravery in his service. Be authentic and build communities of hope!

Jason Potter is an author, speaker, educator and the National Director of OAC Ministries Australia.

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