Pursue Godly Community_Erin OlsonI recently had the opportunity to speak with a group of parents and students about community. It was by no means a coincidence, but a God-given, ordained moment in time. Every year I choose a word for the year that has been impressed upon me by the Holy Spirit. It’s a word or a theme that represents something that keeps confronting me. Last year, my word for the year was “community.” So, when my friend sat down with me in October and asked me to speak at her church’s conference, I wasn’t completely shocked when I looked down at the schedule of speakers and saw that the only blank space needing to be filled was the one for “community.” I say I wasn’t shocked, but that doesn’t mean at all that I wasn’t sweating profusely at the ask or the task.

Although 2016 had been my year of “community,” in all honesty, I’m still seeking and searching for community and trying to figure that all out. To be asked to speak about something you don’t feel super confident about or super smart about is both humbling and unnerving. It’s also a place where the Holy Spirit can minister to you and through you because you don’t have all the answers. There’s only One who does.

I’ve been a seeker of community my entire life. I’ve always wanted to find a place to “fit in” or just plain “feel at rest with.” I’ve sought out community in friendships, hobbies or interests, and church. I struggle to find the community I click with because, as I am slowly figuring out, I am looking for community to fill a need I had instead of fulfilling the role God created community for. Let me explain.

In speaking to the group of parents, I presented the concept of the “Four C’s of Community.” We were Created for Community. We need to Commit to Community. We need to Connect with our Community. And we need to Continue in Community. Each of these steps is important, but what is of most importance is the object at the center of our community. That object at the center must always be God.

Created for Community

From the very beginning, God saw community as good. Genesis 2:18 says, The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Community is a gift to us from God for His glory and our joy that we are designed to need. The fact that we desire community is a testament to God’s character. God Himself, through the Trinity, is a beautiful image of community. God, in His power, could have done everything Himself by His name alone. However, that’s not at all how God has chosen to reveal Himself to His people throughout the ages. The Trinity, the Godhead three-in-one, works together to perform certain tasks that glorify God and build up His church. Each part of the Trinity has a very distinct role. The same is true for you and I. We, individually and collectively, bring glory to God and build up the church when we utilize our gifts, talents, treasures, time, and our hearts to make His name great and known.

Jesus spoke of the need for community with God and with people. He commanded in Mark 12:30–31, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” If Jesus had only commanded us to love God, that would have given most of us a pass to ignore people. We, especially introverts, could have said, “Jesus said only to love God, so I’m staying in my holy huddle and loving God. I was only created for relationship with Him, not with others.” Part of loving others is being in community with others. We can’t know people’s needs, their hearts, or their issues without getting to know them. Just as we are to spend time daily with God so we can know Him more, we must also spend time with those who God has put in our paths and our communities so we can know them more.

Commit to Community

Once we understand and embrace the command to love God and love people, we need to commit to being intentional about pursuing godly community. I get asked the question quite a bit about “how can I find authentic community?” My go-to response is always the words of Jesus given in Matthew 16:24–26:

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”

To be a productive member of an authentic community, we must first answer the same call Jesus gave to His disciples: we must lay down our desires, pick up our cross, and follow Him. We must choose to pursue godly community, not worldly community. It is fine to pursue hobbies and interests with your community, but if your community becomes only about those hobbies and interests, at the expense of bringing glory to God, your community has become more about self and less about the Gifter of community.

The old saying, “It takes a village,” is so true. In the account found in Exodus 17, the Israelites, while camping at Rephidim, were attacked by the Amalekites. Moses told Joshua to gather some men to go out and fight. Moses said that he would go up on a hill and hold the staff of God in his hand (Exodus 17:9). Just as Joshua didn’t go into the physical battle by himself, Moses didn’t go up on that hill alone to fight the spiritual. Moses, Aaron, and Hur all went up on that hill. If Moses held the staff up, the Israelites had the upper hand against the Amalekites. But just as you and I can get tired in a battle, Moses’ arms got tired from holding up the staff. Aaron and Hur—his people—noticed the correlation between his task and his weariness. They didn’t stand by and watch Moses fail. Instead, they found a way to help. Aaron and Hur found a stone for Moses to sit on and they stood on each side of Moses and held up his arms until sunset (Exodus 17:11–13). Joshua and his army overwhelmed the Amalekites in battle. These verses don’t just tell us about the faithfulness of God, but they also express the importance of having godly community.  

Connect with Community

At the root of community, we must first understand that it is God who chooses our community, not us. Theologian Michael Horton says it best,

“A church isn’t a group of friends you’ve picked, it’s a group of brothers and sisters God has picked for you.”

When we start seeing people as brothers and sisters whom God has chosen for us, we will see them differently. The twelve disciples were very different. They had different personalities, gifts, and talents, yet through their desire to pick up their cross and follow Jesus, they lived in community with one another. They set aside their differences and their desires to pursue the things of Christ. We should live no differently. Jesus is our common ground (Acts 2:42-47). When we participate in community through Jesus at the center of everything we do, say, and pursue, we’ll live and love differently.

Continue with Community

So how do we nurture relationships within our community? We need to be intentional. We can’t go in with expectations of getting, but rather we must enter into relationships with the expectation of giving. We need to give ourselves to the things of God and the things it takes to deepen relationships within our community. Here are just a few ways I came up with:

  • Worship Together (Acts 2:46–47)
  • Serve Together (Acts 4:32, Romans 12:4–5)
  • Meet Together (Matthew 18:20, Acts 1:14, Hebrews 10:24–25)
  • Encourage One Another (Romans 15:5, Hebrews 10:24–25)
  • Live in Unity (Psalm 133:1, 1 Corinthians 1:10, 1 Peter 3:8)

Relationships and community are the hardest to establish and sometimes the most difficult to cultivate because there is much at stake. Charles Spurgeon once said, “Satan attaches more importance to godly fellowship than we. Since union is strength, he does his best to separate.” Satan is keenly aware of what it looks like to have Christians united for the One so he will do his best to keep us separated. Your best defense is to recognize his schemes and move forward in godly community. At times, this will mean holding up the arms of your sisters. You never know when God will ask them to hold up yours.

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Erin Olson

Erin Olson

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)