Lots of talk about community in my world – missional community, holistic community, neo-monastic community, intercultural community, church community, intentional community… all sound great. Of course, most talk about all of these without much specificity – they are often buzz words without real definition. So, this is an attempt at clarify what I mean when I talk about Christian community.

First, Jesus. Christian community, by definition, includes Jesus. Now, I think we can be at various places of journey/understanding/relationship with Jesus. May seem obvious, but we would be remiss if there wasn’t overt acknowledgment that this community takes identity from Jesus. NOTE: this can be expressed many ways, yes? Formal, informal, baptist-flavoured, pentecostal-style, whatever. Those are religious forms we put around our understanding of Jesus, and are debatable. But Jesus is a must for Christian community. Can we differ on some of our beliefs, backgrounds, and practice? I think so because we are centred around Jesus, not just our way of following him. Do you agree?

Next, we have a commitment to one another that is based on relationship, not contract. We have agreed with one another to have a shared relationship with one another around Jesus. Therefore, different people can live out their commitment to varying degrees. Perhaps I have less time and energy than you. That’s ok. The point isn’t how much I do, it’s a common relationship with Jesus. We value heat commitment, not hours or money spent. If you want to make a formal commitment, that is fine and I welcome and honour that. Community allows people to be at different places at one time. Think if this in terms of other relationships you have – do you make friends sign a contract? Are they no longer friends if they can’t make it to dinner one week? Hopefully not! There is give and take, grace, love – all those good things.

Third, I think Christian community needs some sense of purpose. Does this mean each and every person must do all the same things? No. Do we all have to carry the same burden for the same cause? I don’t think so. Many “communities” define themselves by one interest. The problem with that is they are therefore closed communities. This seems to be at odds with having Jesus at the centre. Perhaps a common purpose is something as broad as “helping one another follow Jesus” or “Seeking God’s Kingdom.” To me, these seem different than specific causes. Is there a difference between purpose and cause? I DO think that if there is no purpose, you are ultimately a bunch of people hanging around. That’s fine, but again doesn’t fit with the Jesus part, because he as always about God’s mission and has asked his people to do the same.

Also, I think that Christian community must have some amount of “in common.” The obvious (though not easy) things are shared time, money, stuff, interests. I am really glad that so many people experiment with various forms of communal life. I am saddened that our individualistic/materialistic culture wins most often and convinces us to grow up and get our own things. It appears that many of the most vibrant forms of community through the story of God’s people had things in common. Do we have to have everything in common? Not necessarily. I believe different communities can decide together what and how they are going to share – there’s not “one way.” But if that conversation is not being had, then I don’t think it’s community.

Finally, I think true forms of community are ones where we don’t get to pick just our friends to be part. We need people who are different, people we don’t know yet, even people we don’t like?! for our own sake. You can read Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together” for really good thoughts on this. In short, Christian community MUST contain variation. It must to be reflective of God’s heart and creation. It must so that we have to learn to love and compromise. We NEED people who are somehow different, even if this means it is not as easy. This one may be the most difficult, but is also the most powerful for everyone involved. How different can we stand to be and still maintain relationship?

You’ may notice I haven’t said anything about what we must DO. I think that is pretty negotiable from community to community. Also, I don’t think we are defined by our practice. Rather, practices are fluid to reflect how we are wanting to share our lives with one another around Jesus. Our new community, for example, is currently meeting every-other-week for  a meal, being together, and prayer. Other things can happen in between, but they aren’t mandatory. That’s it for now. We’re young and getting to know one another. And, most of our people are involved in significant ministry, so we are inviting one another to join in what we are doing rather than creating something new. We are sharing our lives with Jesus with one another. This rhythm will grow and change as we move along, but it works for now. And it seems that God is at work, so we keep listening to God together and will see what’s next.

Christian community can be found in a traditional church. Or it can not. I don’t mean any of this in opposition to any particular church expression. Rather, I would hope that regardless of your church/faith community/missional community/holistic community/intercultural community/intentional community, if you are wanting it to be CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY, you find these things to be true.

Are they true of your community? If not, do you want them to be present and how can you help?

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