Community doesn’t “just happen.” It takes time, intentionality, vulnerability and mutual commitment to develop. Yet, there are sure fire ways to kill community and key values that can create or grow community and in this post I want to take a look at both. Let’s start by looking at some ways you can kill community. I call these, the Killer BEs.
Killer BEs of Community
- Legalism – BE like me – Legalism is emphasizing certain activities or ways of behaving as a means to earning God’s approval. Not surprisingly, the person who practices legalism imposes a standard they (think) they are living on those around them. For example, “How can you say you love Jesus if you don’t serve the poor every Friday night (with an implied ‘like I do’). Both subtle and overt legalism will kill community in a group of people. This seems to be a large part of what Jesus disliked about the Pharisees (see Matthew 23).
- Moralism – BE good – Similar to legalism, moralism assumes that you have to abide by a certain moral standard in order to be accepted by the group. Groups may even form around certain moral decisions. While a level of morality is a good thing, if the essence of the group is avoiding a certain sin or practicing a certain behavior, you eliminate grace. Community requires a safe place to struggle and still be accepted.
- Personalism – BE whatever you want – Based on the previous two, it would be easy to assume that community embraces each person exactly as they are. But, an atmosphere of “do whatever you want” kills community as well. Love requires that we want the best for someone. If we let someone “be whatever they want” (for example, they are harming themselves through a drug addiction) and we don’t say anything, we are not demonstrating love toward that person. Love gives a person grace to struggle and be accepted, yet speaks truth into the life of that person (Colossians 4:6).
- Doctrinalism – BE-lieve the right things – More common than you think, doctrinalism requires that certain beliefs are held before one is accepted into the community. While believing the right things is a good in theology, it is a bad standard in community. Why? A person needs to have a community of people around them to help them learn and grow into the right things. A community that requires adherence to those beliefs before acceptance into the group necessarily becomes inward-focused and begins the process of dying as a group. Holding orthodoxy (right doctrine) as a community is right, but not as a standard of acceptance.
- Deism – BE God – Careful lest you say you don’t fall into this category (I know I can be guilty of this). In communities, we can begin to think that we have the solutions to someone else’s problem. Yet, in the Christian community, the thing that unifies us is that we do not have the solution, but have given ourselves over to the God who sent the solution in His Son Jesus Christ. God may use us to help a person in our communities. But, when we view ourselves as the solution, we negate the work of God.
In each of the Killer BEs, there is something right and good. But, if any one of these is over-emphasized or becomes the main focus of the group, it will kill community. You have likely sensed one (or all) of these at one time or another. If that is the case, I am sorry. Please know that I have experienced each of them myself as well. I know that I have felt as if I should just walk away and give up on community. But, that is not what God has for us; we are commanded to have community with one another (see “The Value of Community”).
Creators of Community: The “One Anothers”
Christian Community done well can be the most life-giving and life-changing reality we can experience. Dallas Willard said, “As firmness of footing is a condition of walking and secure movement, so assurance of others being for us is the condition of stable, healthy living.” So, we need to ask the question, “how do we create community?”
I want to offer some values for creating community. In Scripture, there are over 60 “one another” statements that serve as guiding values for creating community. These statements are encouragements to us on how to regard one another. I have chosen 7 of those 60 to emphasize:
- Encourage one another daily (Heb. 3:12-14) – Nothing creates a connection like mutual admiration. In community, encouragement demonstrates that we value and appreciate the other.
- Inspire one another toward love and good works (Hebrews 10:24-25) – I need people to inspire me to do good because I know deep down that my default position is to be self-centered and lazy. In community, we need to be that source of inspiration for one another.
- Restore one another gently (Galatians 6:1) – Every person goes off track at one point or another. We offend each other, go down wrong/dangerous paths, or allow ourselves to develop negative thought patterns. It is in the context of community that we can be restored by those we trust to speak truth gently into our lives.
- Support one another (Gal. 6:2, 1 Cor. 12:25) – Life throws difficult situations our way all of the time. So, we need other around us to care for us, lift us up when we are down, or to bear the burden when life is too much.
- Teach one another (Romans 15:14; Col. 3:16) – The best place to learn is in context of community. When done well, we can process, wrestle, discuss and grow as we learn together. No one person can know everything, so we need the perspective and insight of others in community.
- Serve one another (Galatians 5:13) – This is a two way street; not only do we serve others, but we need those who serve us. That “I’ve got your back” culture is one of the most life-giving aspects of community.
- Go on mission with one another (Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 6:7&12) – Community, if worthwhile, must have a purpose or focus. As Christians, our purpose is the mission of Christ. Yet, we are not called to go it alone. We partner with other people with a variety of gifts, experiences and abilities to carry out the cause of Christ in context of community.
Foundation for Community
There are over 50 more we could have identified, but hopefully these are a good start. Before ending this post, I want to say one more thing: Humility is the foundation community. Stated negatively, we cannot have community with one another without humility. In Philippians 2, the apostle Paul is calling the Philippian church back to unity in their church. He begs them to be “of one mind and one Spirit.” His solution for how to do that is profound: “in humility value others more highly than yourself.” If community is to be built, there must be a personal commitment of each member toward humbling themselves before one another. As Andrew Murray said, “humility is the soil in which the graces (good things of life) take root.” No good thing, especially community, can grow without humility as the soil.