Collective Thoughts – On Community

“Christian community is like the Christian’s sanctification. It
is a gift of God which we cannot claim. Only God knows the
real state of our fellowship, of our sanctification. What may
appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to
God. Just as the Christian should not be constantly feeling
his spiritual pulse, so, too, the Christian community has not
been given to us by God for us to be constantly taking its
temperature. The more thankfully we daily receive what
is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship
increase and grow from day to day as God pleases.”
~Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together

Last week, Mike Rusch and I were discussing the buzz-words of life when he said, “‘Community’ is one of those words that has come to define our generation.  It’s a word that means everything to us, without really meaning anything at all.”

I’ve been wrestling with those words for several days now.  I think he’s right.  Sometimes I wonder whether “community” has become little more than an ad hoc descriptor, a word tossed about carelessly without thought for it’s true depth.

For example, I’ve heard that community means “living life together,” or that it is a group that meets on Wednesday nights to study scripture, or that it is a neighborhood of people in Portland who gather in an apartment to discuss social ills.  Perhaps each of these provides an adequate description of one facet of community, but isn’t community all of these things?  Isn’t community really more than these things?  And then when we super-impose “Christian” over the descriptor, doesn’t the term “community” take a wholly different kind of meaning, a different set of eternal ethic?

Today I’m hoping to engage everyone in the Collective community for a bit of a project.  I’m asking, what does community mean to you?  Also, what resources (books, videos, other media) have most influenced your ideas of community?  Finally, what are your scriptural proofs regarding community and the ways in which it plays out?

Please jump in here.  We’d like to hear from doctors, farmers, housewives, social activists, blue-collar, white-collar, black, white, and everyone in-between.  If you are a lurker or non-commentor, that’s great… but today is your chance to jump in.

I’d love to put some flesh on these bones.  Who’s first?

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61 Responses to Collective Thoughts – On Community

  1. bwriley4 says:

    Having spent some time living in Christian community in the context of Youth With A Mission, I found it to be wonderfully difficult. We lived in one building with multiple families and singles, from numerous countries and all walks of life, sharing most meals together, responsibilities for maintenance and upkeep, and the costs of all of the above. When you were struggling to get along with someone, such closeknit community compels resolution. God truly used it in our lives to help us grow in His image. I think often what we may call community in American culture falls well short of this.

  2. community, in my world, means living with your legs wide open. it’s a bit of a coarse word picture, eh? but i couldn’t think of anything else that cuts right to the graphic, vulnerable and downright uncomfortable state of the community i’ve experienced.

    that’s one thing community means to mean and if i have time later i will come back for more. 🙂

    also, From Brokenness to Community by Jean Vanier is a MUST read for EVERY community.

  3. mellowdandtheboyz says:

    community means more to me now than it ever has before – as I’ve spent the last 2 years in a community of people that don’t speak the same or look the same as me. thats the beauty of community. it can transcend all differences. doesn’t matter if your black, white, brown, male, female, old young, weird or cool. community happens. it shouldn’t be faked or fabricated. one shouldn’t feel pressure to obtain it. but without it, we aren’t full. to me, community means being willing to try to do what we were created to do – love God and love each other….and trying to do this together truly beats going at it alone.

    • sethhaines says:

      No doubt that community beats going it alone. I like what you’re saying here.

      I’ve heard many lately (believers and non, god-fearers and athiests) speak to mans search for belonging. It certainly speaks to the why of community.

      Thanks for stopping in, Mel. I hope you and Dave are well. We think about y’all often.

  4. Adam says:

    The temptation for me in this season is usually to idolize and make community the end, instead of a means to an end. The quote you started with is from a section in Life Together that has impacted my view of community more than anything I’ve ever read, by bringing to light the fact that community is not my right, and “creating” it is not my responsibility (nor is it within my power – what is meant to become a stunning Bride when God breathes life is instead a misfigured, hollow Frankenstein of a body when I try to build it with my hands). Community is a gift from God and is a way for Him to sanctify and draw us closer as His children – it is not guaranteed us, and as Bonhoeffer said: “The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases.”

    Organic. That would be my word for community. It has to be organic, and when we try to synthesize it, it gets all tangled up.

    • Agreed! Organic would sum up the massive explanation I gave below, but hey, we did just talk about it last night didn’t we 🙂 Good words, man!

    • bhirschy says:

      I’m not entirely disagreeing here – but I will do a bit of pushing back (hopefully humbly!), but I’m not sure I’d called Jesus’s community organic. If anything, it was awkward as hell… bunch of lowly fishermen and misfits in community with the God himself. In fact, the vast majority of meaningful community I’ve had over the last 5 years was not organic but forced and fought for and forged in a way that made love a real choice and infused value into the community.

      Again, not disagreeing, but organic seems really nebulous and karmic to me, though I don’t disagree that once we are in community love (which is a choice) creates a beautiful unity which is by all means organic.

      Would love to hear your thoughts on that. I kinda of fall into the camp, from living and working overseas, that community is something we fight for and hanging out and loving on a bunch of smelly nomads or annoying other foreigners for lack of choice isn’t too organic. I think we also don’t get the choice of whom is around us in community in some locations and certainly some periods in our life. I think we do have a choice to dig deep with people whether or not it’s natural or organic.

      Would truly love to hear your thoughts on that.


      • J.Ray says:

        Brian, I think you really hit a key note in the “work” that authentic community takes. Growing “organic” food is much more labor intensive than other methods. I think when most people say organic, they mean “easy”, which authentic, Jesus centered community just a’int.

      • Adam says:


        I think you’re right, and thanks for pushing back. Seasons are so interesting, in that I can read your description of community and totally not identify at all based on my current season – but you forced me to remember another season where the words you chose could not have been more perfect. There was about a 3-month period during college when I slept on the couch so that a homeless man could sleep on my bed, and your words “not organic but forced and fought for and forged in a way that made love a real choice and infused value into the community” are absolutely spot on for what happened in our house during that time. “Awkward as hell”, for sure, but one of the most precious and sanctifying seasons of my life so far. Thanks for the reminder.

        My sphere of community in this season now consists of a bunch of young married couples and young families – a group of mostly Bible-belters, mostly grew-up-in-churchers, and individuals whose temptation is not to refrain from community, but to manipulate and control it. So when I say organic, it’s mostly in response to my own tendency to try and “Monsanto” community into what I think community should look like. (like that new verb? 🙂

        Foundational to community is a faith that it is enough if we will only obey God’s command to love.

      • bhirschy says:

        Adam – thanks for your response man.

        I totally understand where you are coming from and don’t want to push back for no reason… and I know what you mean by organic – my most enjoyable (maybe best) friendships in the world have been organic – but the most valuable have involved some serious long-suffering (not to say the two can’t be one). Can we dissect the differences between valuable and enjoyable? That might be splitting hairs too much, but I think there are some diamonds in there.

        I’m not willing to throw out the word organic… but I’d add some other modifiers to it. There are loads of other connotations that come with that word (easy, natural, etc…) I blame Portland for devaluing the word (*Stirs the pot*)

        “Is this wifi organic?!” – Drunk Uncle

        I think a lot of what is wrapped up in the world knowing us by our love and unity for each other is in the fact that community can transcend logic, demographic, and social norms – and can look ‘weird as hell’. It’s weird and awkward and people take notice. Homogeneity rarely gets much attention… but that doesn’t mean it’s not organic.

        Love could be the great equalizer here, and not in a cliche way. The love of Christ allows us to organically love people that it looks weird to love on and who are not of the same ‘feather’, if you will. The love of Christ is weird, certainly appears awkward to the outsider, inexplicable, hard fought for on the cross, and loaded with intrinsic value… and at the same time totally organic? He made the abnormal completely normal and that’s so miraculous we could spend a lifetime thinking on it.

        It’s the ‘awkwardness’ turned into complete normalcy of two people who shouldn’t be in community participating in community that I find beautiful.

        Thanks again for your reply – it’s beautiful.


      • sethhaines says:

        I like this thread a lot. My take away is that community comes in different shapes in different seasons and that it requires long-suffering and the love of Christ. And frankly, it doesn’t matter whether it’s organic or forced, long-suffering and the love of Christ are non-negotiables for Christian community.

        As with long-suffering, Adam and Brian… you both know what I mean. I know you do.

      • Adam says:

        “It’s the ‘awkwardness’ turned into complete normalcy of two people who shouldn’t be in community participating in community that I find beautiful.”


  5. Kelly McCarty says:

    James and I have reflected much on this word in the last year. We still don’t know that we have “figured it out,” but we are trying. The one thing I have learned is that it is messy! Everyone comes from some state of brokenness, some more than others. The reality of “love covers a multitude of sins,” is a hard one to live out. It often goes against our nature and yet I’m reminded often that God calls me to “take up your cross,” daily. Love is the one word I think of when I think of community. Not the mushy, fake love portrayed in movies and tv but the love and forgiveness that stems from a true understanding of the love and forgiveness that has been extended to us through Jesus. Love poured out as an offering through ugliness and sin and brokenness and hurt. That is what “community” has looked like for us and we continue to strive for more because through it lived out, we are truly blessed.

    • J.Ray says:

      AJ Svoboda just published a book titled “Messy” about Christian Community. I think he would agree (although I have yet to read the book).

    • bhirschy says:

      Really enjoyed reading this comment, Kelly.

      I wonder what we learn about community when we move away from one to another community? I’d be interested to know how you and James’ travels have shifted and refined your definition of the word.

      Brokenness is such a key word here because it removes pride. A group of broken people viewing each other correctly is a beautiful thing.

      I think it has to be one of the cornerstones of community – being absolutely broken and ever reminded of our depravity. I’d even suggest that community is eventually absolutely undermined without brokenness.

    • sethhaines says:

      I love this, Kelly. Good words. And I agree with Brian; I’d love to hear how your idea of community has been refined in your travels.

  6. Brenda Chance says:

    First off, I love the Bonhoeffer quote. It’s so true that suspicion and criticism are the death of community, where as gratitude is its life. Thank you for sharing that.
    I couldn’t agree with you more, “community” has become a buzzword, accompanied by a quick roll of the eyes. In all honesty, I think it’s a word that we’ve sterilized. When people say they are seeking “community,” what I find they mean is that they are looking for a group of people who will offer unmitigated acceptance, along with a laugh track and feel-good, warm fuzzies. Community can be this, but it can’t be limited to this. The first community of believers stirred up quite a lot of dust as they worked out their faith elbow to elbow. I think our current faith communities could benefit from that same kind of wrestling, honesty and transparency. (Isn’t this why we are so compelled by Bonhoeffer’s work?)
    Community must speak to the belonging, acceptance, and worth needs we all possess. It seems to me that the bonding agent that cements these needs, while embellished by laughter and fun times, are only created in the deeper heart-to-heart struggles that make most of us feel vulnerable and inadequate (depending on if we’re on the listening or confession end of that equation). I’ve often thought that when Acts 2 says “they had all things in common” that it’s speaking to the kind of openness in relationships that says, “I’ll let you meddle in my messy stuff; your struggles are my struggles, your victories, my victories.” Maybe when the reality of God’s power is tangible in your midst faith makes you less inclined to hide the stuff that is most needful of His influence.
    I look to Romans 12 for the definition of “Christian community.” I’ve been greatly influenced by Marva Dawn’s contribution. I also think Paul David Tripp’s insights on relationships are helpful.
    I think one of the greatest threats to Christian community is the notion that in it we will find ‘friends.’ We may. Yet, if that is all we find, the community will be stunted. The community needs ‘mothers’ and ‘fathers’ who nurture growth, and ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ who provoke us to see ourselves as we are, and ‘weird uncles’ who teach us to be patient and forbearing. Unfortunately, too many “Christian communities” have become like this childhood club to which I belonged: We set up our clubhouse in the middle of the woods, where no one could find us unless they had been invited…and of course, we only invited the other kids in the neighborhood who we thought were just like us. I’m recalling, we all got bored of that club and so we turned to fighting with each other.
    Thanks for the conversation starter. It’s been a good exercise to think through. I’ll look forward to seeing the finished project. Blessings.

    • sethhaines says:

      This comment adds a couple of critical pieces to the conversation of the “look” of community, I think. I love the idea that “community needs ‘mothers’ and ‘fathers’ who nurture growth… and ‘weird uncles’ who teach us to be patient and forbearing.”

      He who has ears… and all of that.

      I also like the thought that community means that we cannot hide our mess, that we are so involved in each other’s lives that the truth is evident.

      Thanks for sharing here.

  7. From my experience, true life-on-life community has to begin with time (and lots of it). In that light, our community group recently decided to forego any kind of curriculum in exchange for simply spending time together.

    To give you some context, our community group actually began as a group of friends that just enjoyed hanging out. We shared meals, had meaningful conversations, and spoke life and truth into one another. We laughed, we argued, we cried. We worshiped, we prayed, and we just sat together at times. We spent the majority of our nights together, shared the things God was teaching us with one another, and grew together.

    Now that we’re an official “community group” at our church, we’ve worked hard to structure our community, to put it in a nice little box that recreates what we had organically before all of this formality. But it just hasn’t worked for us over the past year. We tried to fix something that wasn’t broken, and instead actually caused it to break . So instead of continuing down this path, we canceled community group this week and invited everyone to just “hang out” at the same time and same place.

    We’ve grown weary of treating our community like a business that needs to be monitored and analyzed. It’s doesn’t need that. It’s not a business (though we’ve treated it as such). The Book of Acts may be a bit cliche, but it gives such a beautiful description of this living, breathing organism that we call community. Do I think they prayed and studied together in a more formal setting, like our current “community groups”? Sure. But more importantly, they shared their meals, their time, and everything else they had with one another. They were unhindered in their love for one another and their love for God.

    • sethhaines says:

      Quick thought, Andrew… cliches are cliche for a reason–there’s truth in them. If the book of Acts is cliche, I hope to God I’m called cliche when I cross over to the other side.

      Thanks for sharing here.

    • sethhaines says:

      Now for my more substantive thought…

      Christian community must live together in a way that worships well. They way you described your community (prior to calling yourselves CG) is a good example of this. So, you guys had the cornerstone of Christian community prior to formalizing. That’s key. I think that’s why you guys are able to strip the box away–because what you had in the first place was authentic.

  8. Seth says:

    Community happens wherever two or more are gathered. The question is: what name is the community gathered in? We gather under all different kinds of banners with all different kinds of people, and this is good. But for the Christian, the greatest joy in community is when there is an awareness of the Giver of this gift called “community” with others…when we “taste and see that the Lord is good” in and through our brothers and sisters.

    This doesn’t have to be an exclusive group where all the Christians gather in this Name and the “non-believers” gather in that name. No. As Bonhoeffer puts it, Christian community is “a spiritual reality, not a human reality”. The difference is what binds people’s hearts together; what the hearts of the individuals are treasuring in any given community. When two or more Christians gather in the name of Jesus, that simply means He is what they are treasuring and what they are after, not as much one another or their ideal of community. The best for our brother is that he would find God when we come together, not merely us.

    The beautiful thing is that we get to live out this spiritual reality of community in our human communities, exposing not-yet-believers to the grace gift that is spiritual community in Christ. The world will know Him by our love for one another. Our love for one another is rooted in our treasuring of Him. So, as we treasure Him together, pointing one another again and again to His love, we love one another. As the world is exposed to this spiritual community of love, they are drawn to the Giver of it.

    So, we need to live with an awareness of our spiritual reality of community with other believers in whatever human community we find ourselves in.

    Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together” has formed much of my understanding of community. I read this book a month after a year or two of searching for the “best” model of Christian community. True Christian community is not about a model; it’s about Christ. Is he at the center? Really?? All ideals, expectations – let’s just say it – idols have to die. This book put that year in perspective for me and is helping shape my experience of Christ in community. “Christian brotherhood is not an ideal, but a divine reality.” (“Life Together”)

    • Adam says:

      “True Christian community is not about a model; it’s about Christ. Is he at the center? Really??”

      There’s the right question.

    • sethhaines says:

      I love your thoughts, Primm–as usual. Totally agree, it’s not about a model.

      Here’s my next question for you. What does Christian community look like on a practical level in YOUR experience?

  9. Hey bro. Thanks for sparking the conversation. There are words like “community” that are suffering. “Gospel” could be another. When words mean “everything,” they often lose their essence. Good conversations like this can recover what’s being lost.

    If I had a word, I would describe community as “sharing.” Sharing life is broad, but I think it touches the reality as well as a deep longing within the heart of humanity. To tease it out a bit… I would say sharing time, sharing space, sharing meals, sharing stories, sharing laughter, sharing hurt, sharing struggles, sharing burdens, sharing hope, sharing victory, sharing work, sharing dreams, sharing resources, sharing doubt, sharing faith, and on and on we could go.

    I’m coming from a faith perspective, so that colors my thinking/feeling/doing. And honestly, I would say that what has been most forming are the sacred texts of Scripture and my life story… and the intersections and interactions of the two… as they collide with the stories of others. When God weaves people’s plot lines together as the beautiful mess of life is shared, I feel like I get a glimpse of the glory that we are meant to enjoy together–as He does His redeeming/restoring work of bringing beauty from ashes again and again in and through us. But, Bonhoeffer’s Life Together has been forming. Total Church by Chester and Timmis has been forming. And honestly, some study of Celtic Christianity and monastic communities of the 4th & 5th centuries has been forming. All of the “missional community” talk that seems to be buzzing around church leadership sub-culture isn’t new. God has inspired intentional, loving, outreaching community within His Church over and over again throughout the centuries and across the globe. I’m praying that the U.S. church as a whole would begin to experience what we feel more comfortable naming, renaming, and sharing about than sharing in… the kinds of experiences exploding in the the Global South as we speak. The non-authored, unknown followers in those areas are who we should be sharing some space and time with. Those kinds of leaders have not merely taught me about community and faith but have led me into experiences of both.

    When it comes to Scripture more specifically, I have been meditating on the Gospels… watching Jesus create community, sustain it, get it moving as well as watching who He does it with. There’s a lot being revealed there. If I had to narrow it down to one, I would say John 17. Hours away from the cross, Jesus prays for His disciples and those that would follow after. Meditating on that Prayer, the longing utterances of Christ for His closest companions, has been reshaping me. I want to share in the life He prayed for us to have in Him and share with others. There’s depth in the simplicity of what He prayed. I find comfort in the effectiveness of His prayers on our behalf and that He is creating by His Spirit those kinds of communities all over the planet–living because of Him, living in Him, being made one as He is (Father, Son, Spirit), being made like Him through His Word, being sent into the world as He was. For me… this is the true north of Christian community.

    • sethhaines says:

      J-Rus, love that you brought this down to a practical, applicable level. This is what I’m talking about by good resources… BOOM!!!

      Take away–community = sharing. There’s a lot in that phrasing.

  10. Lindi says:

    A few thoughts from our own little experiment:
    Community is giving you the pen to write on my calendar. It’s watching your kids when I am way too tired. It’s calling you from the grocery to see if you need some of what I just found on sale. It’s sometimes getting a little miffed at you and deciding what we have is too good to let offense fester. It’s watching you hold my baby kinda like you hold your own. It’s the first-ones-to-my-mind when I go to prayer mode. It’s my safe place to experiment with the gospel– my control group. It’s getting less and less embarrassed about the mess in my house when you drop by. In short, I don’t think it’s too grandiose– I think it’s lots and lots of small, everyday choices that prefer you and yours over me and mine. But then I am awfully young in this.

  11. My favorite (rough) quote from Life Together is “Christian brotherhood (community) is not an ideal to be attained, but rather a reality to participate in.”

    Community is not organic for me, but rather it is first an identity. As a son (or daughter for others) I am part of a community, a large, universal, historic community, and a local community. If left to being ‘organic’ I will choose people who are already like me, who like stuff I like, who share my existing cultural values, etc. Community is easy and organic when it is with people we naturally mesh with. But our community, Christian community, is made up of Jew & Greek, Male & Female, Slave & Free Man, it is made of up people who might have little naturally in common, but as Seth said we have Jesus in common. Jesus as our reconciler. When Christians hang out with people just like them it does nothing to commend Christ to an unbelieving world, but when we reach across social, racial, economic lines and call them ‘community’ the world is compelled.

    So community is first an identity, and secondly, like all aspects of our identity, we are focused on Jesus, shaped by the Spirit and active participants in laying hold of that which has already been declared in Jesus about us. Rather than force Acts 2 on people (which is what many strive for), call one another through the gospel toward humility, gentleness, joy, unity, selflessness, generosity, etc. In the midst of repentance about such things we will find our communities more life giving. And yes, meals, meals, meals.

    • bhirschy says:


      You raise a really fantastic point here – we need to determine the difference between prescriptive and descriptive texts. Christianity becomes abusive and controlling when we fail to recognize the difference.

    • sethhaines says:

      I love these thoughts. The “Slave & Free Man” discussion is going to ring in my ears for a bit.

      Community is an identify.

  12. Jeff Melton says:

    TL:DR = Community: Just Do it

    The word “community”, at its root, can be understood as “common unity” or “a unity held in common”. In that sense, each of the things you mentioned, Seth, are examples of real community, as are each of the other commenters’ examples. Christian community is just another type of community.

    Maybe I’m projecting a bit here (and if in so doing I miss the mark, I beg the Collective’s forgiveness), but it seems to me that this whole exercise is doing a little bit of what Bonhoeffer says not to do: taking the temperature of our communities.

    What I take from Bonhoeffer is to let community be whatever it is in your life. Resist the urge to evaluate it. My personal experience suggests that such qualitative analysis will always find community coming up short of the standard by which it’s measured, and that we will personally always be wanting our community to be what it isn’t yet (and may never be). I think that’s true of all different kinds of communities, faith-based or otherwise.

    I understand your and Mike’s concern (echoed by Justin) that there are a good many words in our vernacular whose power is waning thanks to misuse. I’m pretty sure the only thing that’s going to give the word “community” the power we want it to have, though, is for us to live out both Seth’s and Jacob’s Bonhoeffer quotes.

    That may be worth what it cost you, but them’s my two cents. 🙂

    • sethhaines says:

      Good thoughts, Jeff. So glad you shared.

      I think what I’m trying to explore is not quantitative, and not really qualitative (if that makes sense). I think I’m more asking, “what does community look like, on a practical level?” Sometimes I think it’s worth while to gather various blind men’s opinions of the elephant, if you know what I mean.

      And though I agree with you (oh how easily to devolve into myopic temperature taking), Bonhoeffer speaks very practically, sometimes harshly in LT. It’s really challenging.

      Thanks for dropping them 2 cents. I really appreciate your thoughts.

  13. Matt Tatum says:

    I like Jeff Vanderstelt’s take on community – he is a pastor at Soma Communities in Tacoma, WA. Their church is made up of communities on mission. They really work to push past the community identity and into a family identity. I’ve listened to a few of his sermons and his take is that
    community is something that you belong to based on a common interest or life stage. They push toward a family identity which is based on the common bond of sonship and a gospel-centered life. Again, sounds a bit cliche but I think it all depends on how you live it out. Check out the video below – good stuff:

  14. J.Ray says:

    Studying Christology in the African context this week and came across this “If I gain my humanity by entering into a relationship with other member of the family, both living and dead, then it follows that my humanity comes to me as a gift. This does note mean to say that it is not mine, that my being is part of the group, so that I have no individual value and destiny,. It means rather that it is not something that I can acquire, or develop, by my own isolated power. I can only exercise or fulfill my humanity as long as I remain in touch with others, for it is they who empower me.” Kofi Asare Opuku

    Also “I am because we are, and since we are, therefore I am” – Mbiti

    Is it a distinctly Western, enlightenment view to even talk of community as optional. I really think we need a massive shift in our thinking on this. Thanks Seth for kicking the rock off the hill.

    • sethhaines says:

      “…it is not something that I can acquire, or develop, by my own isolated power. I can only exercise or fulfill my humanity as long as I remain in touch with others, for it is they who empower me.” Kofi Asare Opuku

      There is something here that I really like. Let’s talk about this very very soon.

      • bhirschy says:

        I wrote several articles last year about humanity that were published in a journal for humanitarian and cultural photographers. My point was that if we refuse to engage a culture as a human before we engage them as a photographer, we’ve missed the point and are not valuing the most important part of being in other cultures.

        I think this point is spot on. I hear this ringing true in many Asian countries as well, so I think there might be some universality here.

        I say beer and pipe night, 2015… we’ll discuss it til’ dawn.

        Seth, you still owe me $70,000 for that thing with your car, and me, and the clothes. You know what I’m talking about.

      • J.Ray says:

        Through this whole conversation a little chant has been ringing off in the distance, a plaintive voice with an ancient accent singing softly “there is no salvation outside of the Church, there is no salvation outside of the Church”. The song, having been vilified, caricatured and condemned for so many centuries has been leeched of arrogance or demand or agenda. But still it is sung.

  15. tcurtice says:

    Flesh looked like you giving an estranged father the head of your table. I think it resembles a table spread with roast, mashed-potatoes, spinach and arugula salad with balsamic, blackberry mash, glazed walnuts, and feta.

    The bellowing back and forth:

    He is risen.

    Risen indeed.

    Community is the word of God in the mouth of my brother. Like J. Ray said, it smacks of ubuntu. I exist not because I think, as Descartes thought, but rather I exist because of “umntu ngumtu ngabantu” –Because a person is a person through other persons. Thanks for starting this discussion. More so thanks for rocking my baby in your arms when he’s crying.

  16. Annie says:

    I feel a little intimidated to comment after so many profound thoughts have been expressed here in the comments, but I would venture to ask if perhaps community has become a “buzz word” as a direct result of living in a highly individualistic (perhaps even narcissistic) time and place in history.

    I’m not one to harken back to some golden age; I know there’s been sin since the garden, and there has always been redemption unfurling. But here and now, I can live and work, shop and dine, even attend church, in my neighborhood with total anonymity if I choose to.

    We can discuss whether community organically emerges or is intentionally constructed (it’s been both, in my experience) because it is actually possible to craft a life devoid of community, isolated and in control of when and how we express our strengths as well as our need and vulnerability, if at all. I am not dependent on my neighbors, or my local farmer, or my church body. I have the whole world wide web and then some at my disposal.

    And at the core of it, I think we are aching, really, for belonging. We want those around us to affirm what our faith invites us to believe: that we are loved, and part of a Body. But, of course, the acceptance, the place at the table we long for, comes when we are loved even with our many failing, broken, sin-sick tendencies. As long as we pick and choose our social circles for the way they meet our needs, rather than engaging in the long, hard work of discipleship and relationship, we forgo the very thing we’re longing to create.

  17. Pingback: Community and Gratitude | Once Upon a Truth

  18. sethhaines says:


    Can we build a thread from this comment?

    What does accountability look like in community? It’s not all roses and daisies after all; is it? It would be easy to leave community when it’s time to deal with dirt. We could easily sink back into what Annie calls our “highly individualistic” culture. So… how do we live accountability (and what proof texts do you use)?

    • Adam says:

      There’s a lot in this: “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” Proverbs 27:6

      It is a deep vulnerability we’re called to in community, as in marriage, that lets someone get close enough to wound us.

      My favorite part of Life Together is the Ministry chapter, particularly the ministry of Bearing. Bonhoeffer says: “To bear the burden of the other person means involvement with the created reality of the other, to accept and affirm it, and, in bearing with it, to break through to the point where we take joy in it.” (Galatians 6:2 – “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”) Burdens include failures, temptations, testings, trials, sorrows, suffering, work loads, and debts.

  19. Josh (@realjoshfreeman) says:

    I see a community as a group of people who share a bond – a “oneness” or “unity” – that comes from mutual participation in shared stories.

    What a particular community looks like is determined by the depth, power, and character of those stories. So a community might be as simple as an online forum for baseball enthusiasts – sharing only the stories of presence in that online space and interest in baseball – or as complex as a thousand-year-old village with powerful shared stories of common faith, heritage, and connection to place. It might be as beautiful as believers speaking the peace of shared faith in Christ to one another, or as ugly as a hateful gathering of racial supremacists.

    When I envision a community, I have to begin by envisioning a purpose for that community. A community formed for a short time to collaborate on a Project for a Good Cause doesn’t need to hold in common nearly the number or depth of stories that would be needed to establish, say, a resident village intended to reproduce believers healthy in mind, body, and spirit for generations to come. A collective envisioning of purpose is vitally important; too many conversations about “community” wind up going around and around in frustrating circles because everyone’s holding a slightly different vision of what “community” should be, usually based on their own uniquely felt needs.

    I think it’s clear that God designed us to be most fulfilled when we are relating deeply, both to others and to Him. The stories that modern Western culture has been telling have been, in many cases, intentionally designed to fragment those relationships. You know, because you can’t create a need to buy increasing numbers of useless geegaws in people who are joyful and fulfilled in community.

    One of the needs I see and feel most strongly that I would hope to see Christian communities addressing is the consolation of grief. I don’t mean grief in the narrow sense of “pain felt upon bereavement,” but in the wide sense of all the hurt and pain caused by sin, loss, guilt, and happenstance that many of us carry. I think we’d all be amazed at the things we found ourselves spiritually released to do if we were habitually and transparently bearing one another’s burdens in that way.

    I realize I’ve probably not been all that clear or helpful. I have a lot of thoughts, but it’s hard to condense them, and I’m not a writer like many of you. And so I’ll just close for now, with appreciation to Seth and all here who are wrestling with something so important.

  20. Hi Seth. You’ve got a great comment thread going here! My wife and I have been discussing this topic of community quite a bit, lately. To us, it’s not just about people and a vague familiarity. It’s more than that – it’s sharing life, a closeness, and a connection. The problem is that you don’t connect with everyone in terms of values, cultural, intellectual, etc. and sometimes you can spend years attempting to build community only to find yourself with shallow, surface-level relationships, and not really connecting to people. This could be a sign of our culture/society, or unrealistic expectations, or truly being in the wrong sub-culture. I don’t know the answer, but appreciate the discussion.

  21. Great discussion! I’m not sure there’s much more I can add, but here’s a couple cents’ worth.

    I’m in corporate communications. About 8 years ago, our CEO at the time handed down an edict to us in the midst of some mass layoffs. His memo was to the effect of: “With all these layoffs, let’s please NOT use the word “family” any more in our communications when we’re referring to our employees. Let’s use the word “community” instead. Community members can come and go. But you don’t lay off your family.”

    I’m not sure how that helps here, since you’re not talking about corporate America. But it definitely changed the way I think about the 2 terms. I think it’s already been said above. As a church, should we be opting for the “family” metaphor since we are a permanent entity (eschatologically speaking)?

    As for scriptural proofs, the brother/sister/father/mother/son/daughter descriptors are everywhere. And there is certainly common blood between us. Family seems to be a fine fit with what we’re setting out to do.

  22. Scottie says:

    Hey Seth! It seems to me that if any of us want biblical community or a community that models biblical ideals we must shed the skin of transactional relational behavior. As soon as I decide, either out loud or in my heart, that someone is not being or doing for me what I so desperately need them to be or do to or for me in order for me to be fulfilled then I have set a requirement that is outside of the Gospel. if our relationships cannot be free from requirements or obligations (i.e. transactions) we roadblock the Gospel and slip ever so deeply into another Gospel (not that there is one). Sound familiar? Christ didn’t need anything from anyone, ever. He was fully complete and lacked nothing. He was truly free to have no requirements from anyone or for anyone. In fact it’s what enabled him to give of himself in the most sacrificial way. His life. As soon as you don’t need me to fulfill in you what only Christ can and I don’t need you to fulfill me the only way that Christ can we can have community; biblical, Christ-centered community. This truly is what it means to be en christo! Once gripped by this reality our lives begin to look like low-hanging fruit ripe for the picking. Why do we fight and quarrel? Because we aren’t getting from others what we so desperately need in Christ. I am my (the) biggest hindrance to intimacy, vulnerability and any attempt to pursue “community” outside of being rooted in Christ is idolatrous at best. Let’s start with confession, walk in grace, and to truly love each other trusting that we were first loved and our first love so fulfills our every need that we are free to love outwardly without any thought or hope of transactional reward or gain.

    Romans 5:7&8

    7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person-though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die-
    8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

    While we were enemies! Let that sink in. He wanted community with those who hated him. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

  23. Pingback: Virtual Community | Seth Haines

  24. antarabesque says:

    Community is:
    – people who eat together, share coffee and a sweet during fellowship times, gather around a dining/cafeteria/food court tables, who come to thee table.
    – voices recognized without seeing the faces
    – people knit together by small acts of kindness, of struggle, of knowing, of joy and sorrow and every emotion in between and encompassing, of common purpose and love

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