I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about community lately. Again and again when I think of our community I can’t help but praise God for His faithfulness in this area over the last 5 years. This September our group will celebrate 5 years of wonderful, complicated, loving togetherness. I can honestly say I don’t want to know what our lives would look like if we hadn’t answered God’s call to lean into biblical community 5 years ago.
A lot has changed over our years together, many of us going from the newly married life stage into the parents of young children life stage. Several of us walking through fertility challenges and miscarriage. There have been seasons of struggles in marriage, job changes, you name it, but through
Some things we’ve done well
From the get go we have had an awesome couple leading our group. They are gifted in leadership and administration and have truly leaned into those gifts and God’s leading amidst them to chart the course for our group.
The most crucial thing they’ve done for us is carve out intentional time for us to DTR (define the relationship) every six months. That may sound a little funny to you but taking the time to pause and say what we love about our time together, share difficulties about the current structure, and even dreams for what we really desire out of our time together has been invaluable. Throughout the course of these DTRs we’ve evolved from a biblestudy into a true community group with time built in for fellowship, accountability, and prayer. We’ve navigated the ever changing waters of adding children to our midst and made adjustments to our weekly meeting structure to ensure maximum fellowship and intentionality. It hasn’t been perfect, but together with open communication and commitment to each other we’ve found a structure that works well for us (for now, we’ll check in again in a couple months 😉 ).
Shared Vision and Commitment
Which brings me to the next crucial connection point of our group. We all have a mutual commitment to Jesus and to each other. When our group formed God orchestrated us all coming together with the common goal of “doing life together”. We were all on the same page from the get go. We didn’t want to show up on Thursday nights, study God’s word, then leave and not see each other again until Sunday or the next Thursday. We wanted friends, community, people we could authentically do life with, people who would become like family.
Having a shared vision and goal is so important when entering into Christian community. If you have some group members looking for inductive biblestudy, some looking for prayer and accountability, and another few just looking for fellowship then you can be sure that not everyone in the group is going to walk away with the experience they were looking for. Communication is key and I love how our leaders used DTRs to keep us openly sharing in this area.
Mutual commitment is also key. I hear from group leaders all the time that their biblestudy (or community group) formed later in life when the members already had more friendships established outside of the group, or after families were already raising kids. While I will acknowledge that different life stages bring different challenges to overcome, I want to stress that I really believe commitment to a group (one that is mutually committed to Jesus) will overcome any obstacles. It is SO easy to make excuses but what it really comes down to is priorities. Ask yourself, “Do I really believe that God calls His people to live in community with one another?” and if so then,
“Is it possible to be obedient to God’s commands while choosing other things over the wholehearted pursuit of biblical christian community?”
“Am I putting my own comfort and convenience over what God desires for me?”
So often it seems the root of the struggle amidst our communities is lack of commitment to Jesus and to each other. The active choice to pursue our own comfort puts us in direct opposition to what God wants to do because He calls us out of the “comforts” of this world and into a new way of living. It isn’t always comfortable or easy, and it doesn’t guarantee us protection from the hardships of this life, but it does give us eternal life with God in Heaven and access to His love, grace, mercy, and power even while we are still on this earth continually struggling against our fleshly bodies.
Struggles we’ve faced
Despite the many ways God has led us, our years together have not been without their fumbles and mistakes (we’re a group comprised of humans after all). There have been hurt feelings and weekly structures that didn’t serve us well. Here are a couple things we’ve learned the hard way.
The structure should always be rooted in Jesus. There was a season our group walked through where we decided not to do Bible study anymore and to lean more into accountability and prayer (sounds great right?). We changed from an hour or more spent in the word each week to 20-30 minute unstructured devotional time followed by a loosely defined time of accountability and prayer. For the men, the structure wasn’t terrible (they seemed more willing to dive into accountability and get real with one another) but for the women, it was kind of a disaster. We’d spend twenty minutes on whatever devotional the leader chose for that week and then would almost always lapse into life updates in the forms of highs/lows, never really digging into each
When intentional study of God’s word was removed we were left with the harsh truth of our hearts. We wanted comfort more than intentionality with each other. Getting real and raw, speaking out loud the darkest parts of ourselves, sharing our brokenness with one another is scary. As a whole group it became obvious that we didn’t really want to go there. We were content to stay surface level where things were more comfortable. Praise God at our next DTR the majority of us spoke out about feeling like our time wasn’t really productive and definitely wasn’t accomplishing what we set out to accomplish. It led to some difficult realizations and conversations but ultimately it brought us back to God’s word and what it says about community. Slowly as we returned to His word and surrendered more to the desires He was stirring in our hearts we began giving each other permission to push in deeper. We began asking the hard questions that hit at the heart level. We are still not perfect in this area, but have come such a long way and desire to surrender more to Jesus as we lean deeper into intentional relationships with each other.
Don’t wait to say “I’m sorry” and/or address things that are weighing on your heart. This is a lesson God has really wanted me to learn this year as it has come up again and again. As we’ve leaned deeper into relationship with one another there have been more opportunities for hurt feelings but connections have also grown stronger. Being in relationship with one another has a funny way of making our own flaws more apparent (can I get an Amen from all my married readers out there? ha!). We speak more quickly than we should and find ourselves in a position where we should apologize and clear the air. Many times it turns out that it was all a misunderstanding, I said something that later I worried might have been received poorly and am up all night tossing and turning about it. Then when I finally bring it up weeks later (because I can’t take the real or imagined tension anymore) it turns out there were misunderstandings on both sides and addressing the issues brought us closer. It never hurts to humble yourself and say “I’m sorry” and its true that stepping out to share something that has been weighing on you is hard. Vulnerability like this though is key to building those relationships where you are fully known and fully loved. And it is in that place that God can destroy footholds of the enemy by using people to speak life, love, and purpose into your life.
What it all Comes Down to
In the midst of biblical community God does His work in and through us. He uses us to sharpen each other “as iron sharpens Iron so one brother sharpens another”, to encourage each other, to speak truth when lies are creeping in. Together we are better, stronger, and held more accountable to what the Bible says. In isolation the enemy creeps in, make us comfortable and breeds pride and apathy towards the Lord and the things He cares about. Biblical community is crucial to our development as believers and to the spread of the church. Without it the message of Jesus and what He died for gets watered down and loses its potency. The world begins to see rules and regulations amidst the pages of the Bible (and in Christians themselves) instead of love and kindness. Community is crucial.
My challenge for us this week is to take some time to sit back and reflect on the role community is or isn’t currently playing in our lives.
1) If you are in a community are you putting your whole heart and soul into it, taking the risk of being real and vulnerable all the while trusting the Lord to do His work through it? If not ask yourself what is holding you back, and spend some time praying and asking God to break down any barriers around your heart that are keeping you from intimacy with Him and those around you.
2) If you aren’t in a biblestudy, community group, or some sort of accountability group that serves the purposes covered in this post, why not? What is holding you back? Spend some time praying and asking God to break down any barriers around your heart that are keeping you from intimacy with Him and those around you, and ask Him to provide a way for community in your life. You never know, the people He desires for you to dive in deep with may be right under your nose. Maybe He is calling you to step up and lead the charge by establishing a group committed to the pursuit of Biblical Community.
I’ll be praying right along with you friends and as always I am here if you would like to connect!