catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 11, Num 18 :: 2012.10.12 — 2012.10.25


Ten ways to be a better Christian community

One way to read the epistles of the New Testament is as a series of letters offering advice about how the newly emergent Christian communities can learn to live together.  At that time, the church was growing very quickly and communities were forming that contained people from many different walks of life with many different religious backgrounds and many different cultures of living, who were suddenly drawn together by a common belief that many of them were still figuring out.  Here are ten themes that strike me as I read the Bible, that I think have applications for the way we try to form intentional communities in the twenty-first century. 

1. Don’t be afraid. 

This one isn’t so much a theme in the epistles as it is a theme in the whole Bible.  Again and again, God tells his children not to be afraid.  When we think of community, we often have fears.  How can I be sure this is a good neighborhood?  How do I know my neighbors are good people?  What if I loan something to my neighbors and they don’t return it?  What will I do if the demographics of the neighborhood start changing and my house loses value?  How can I protect my house form being burglarized?  All of these are questions prompted by fear.  If we listen to God, maybe we will start asking better questions like:  Where should I live to make a difference in the world?  How can I choose a place to live where my choice will help the community?  How can I live in a neighborhood filled with a variety of cultures and ethnicities so I can celebrate the diversity God created?  How can I share what I have with my community?

2. Work together. 

In the first chapter of the third letter of John, it says “We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we can work together for the truth.”  Community gets built by working together on things, whether that means joining together as a community to fight a closing school, working side by side in a community garden, joining forces to create a community food pantry, or working together at a fundraiser for a family that needs help paying medical bills, we get to know each other and appreciate each other more if we work together. 

3. Break bread together. 

Think of how you got to know your friends in middle school or high school.  Chances are it involved sharing meals (perhaps at local pizza joints or national fast food chains).  We eat and tell stories and laugh at the same table; we form connections and then bonds.  I am not sure why God made us this way, but I Corinthians 33 acknowledges this when it says, “So, then, my brothers and sisters when you gather to eat, you should all eat together.”  I live in an intentional community with two families in one house.  Sometimes it is amazingly difficult to schedule time for all of us to sit down for dinner together.  We have to juggle the schedules of the three schools where the adults in the house teach, as well as activities for kids in high school, middle school and elementary school.  But when we sit down together and tell stories from our day and laugh with each other, it is inevitably worth it.

4. Pray together. 

In the book of Acts, chapter 1, there is a description of the church in its earliest days.  We are told that Peter stood up among all the believers, who at the time numbered about 120.  That must have been an exciting, but also a scary time. The church was small and vulnerable and beset on all sides by governments and other religious groups that would have loved to see it go away forever.  In the midst of this, we read that, “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus and with his brothers.”  We live in a time when we are, perhaps, not so frightened that the church might not survive, but we certainly have plenty of things in our world that need our prayers.  Praying together is a way of sharing our joys and sorrows in the context of hope.  It is a good thing to do.

5. Commit to your community. 

Our consumer society has little to do with commitment.  We go with the cheapest brand or the one with the newest features, or whatever.  We change our insurance companies, our churches, our brand of detergent, our schools, our spouses, our Internet providers, our online identities and our friends. Along with all of these changes comes the tendency to want to move to a better neighborhood, to more square footage, to the country, to the south or the west or the suburbs, or the other side of town.  And it is certainly true that God’s people and later even Jesus did some wandering about.  But that wandering was never something to be desired.  The goal was always to be able to stay put.  We are told that God is preparing a place for us in heaven, not a series of places, each with increased value and better qualities of people.  If we want to be a part of a community, we need to make a commitment of time and willingness to be involved.  And that means staying put, sticking with the community where you started, sticking with your church even though it isn’t perfect — in short, putting down some roots.

6. Open your doors. 

Be hospitable to those you don’t know.  Welcome strangers into your midst.  Start a conversation with someone waiting in line with you.  Ask someone new in your community to come over for dinner.  Ephesians 2: 19 tells us that, “Consequently you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household.” That means that we are all brothers and sisters.  It would seem a strange thing for us to try to avoid getting to know our brother or sister.  So open your doors, even if your house isn’t clean, and invite in those who seem like strangers, but really aren’t.

7. Be downwardly mobile. 

Matthew 6 tells us not to store up for ourselves treasures in heaven.  It is a pretty straightforward bit of advice (or maybe it is a command).  It is a hard task for Christians in North America, where we are constantly bombarded with messages to seek financial security (whatever that is) and to buy more stuff, to live larger like you deserve.  I am not even suggesting that we literally follow Jesus’ command to sell all we have and follow him (I certainly haven’t), but maybe we can at least take some steps in the right direction.  Instead of buying a huge house with a huge yard miles from anyone else and living in isolation, what if we sought a cozy house in a neighborhood where people sit on their porches and talk to each other on summer nights? (We would still be living in an insane amount of luxury compared to the average family in the world.)  What if, instead of constantly keeping an eye on the market and worrying about how to get the most out of what isn’t even really ours (it actually belongs to God), we worried instead about how to make a difference for those around us?  My guess is we might find that our lives feel freer and filled with less worry, and we also might be taking actions that would make the rest of the world see Christians as really different.

8. Ask forgiveness of each other. 

Living closely in community means that at some point you are going to (probably unknowingly) step on somebody’s toes.  Others will probably (perhaps unknowingly) step on your toes, too.  We love to hold grudges close to our hearts and feed them until they grow out of proportion.  In II Corinthians 2, we are told that instead of making sure that the person who has hurt us has been punished severely enough, we rather ought to forgive and comfort them.  Like most of these suggestions (and the Ten Commandments besides), God gives us these instructions not to ruin our fun or make us feel guilty, but so we might be more happy.  Living in the same space with someone you resent is not fun.  Letting your grudge go allows you to talk and laugh again with your brother or sister. 

9. Be thankful together. 

In a world dominated by advertisements for things you don’t have which claim to fill emotional voids in your life that they can’t fill, it is easy to spend almost all of our time thinking of what we don’t have, what we want or what others have that we really deserve instead of them.  But living a life of thankfulness reminds us of all the things we do have, many of which we don’t ever have to pay for, or if they do cost money, it is very little compared to what we receive from them.  I don’t get a bill for the cool breeze and the shade that I feel when I read in my backyard.  When our families eat together for dinner every night, we have amazing food that costs a tiny fraction of what we would pay to eat out.  I laugh harder with my kids than I ever would at a comedian on cable TV.  The walk my wife takes through the neighborhood with her sister every morning requires no gym fees, but allows them to talk and to see the world waking up.  When we as a community remind ourselves of all we have, we can fight media-influenced dissatisfaction a lot more effectively.  And it makes for a happier life.

10. Help each other in joy. 

I love it when we get a really big snow in the winter that closes schools and makes the roads nearly impassable.  I love it because I know that when I get out into the snow and start shoveling the deep drifts off my driveway, Mr. Thomas from across the street will start up his snow blower, and Lyle from a few doors down will bring his shovel over.  We will all abandon our own driveways and go work together on our neighbor Frances’s driveway (her husband passed away a couple of years ago).  Before we are halfway done, Frances will come out and join us.  When we finish that driveway, we will all gang up and take care of Mr. Thomas’s driveway.  Then we will cross the street and, working together, take care of my driveway, my elderly next-door neighbor’s driveway and Lyle’s driveway.  If we all just worked on our own driveways, we could probably get the same amount done in roughly the same time, but it wouldn’t be as much fun or give us as much satisfaction.  II Cornithians 1:24 says, “We work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm.”  You can curse the snow and clear it reluctantly and with resentment, or you can tackle it together with joy and laughter.  Either way, you have to do the same work.  Why not do it enjoyably then?  This is equally true of raking leaves, cleaning garages, hauling out the trash, weeding the garden and pretty much anything else that has to be done.  Do it together and do it with laughter.  That is what community can give you at its best.  Trust me, it’s worth it.  

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