Salutations again friends,
As some of you know, my tendancy is to write these articles as a result of what lessons God has been teaching me lately. I'm pretty hard-headed and don't always pay attention as keenly as the Lord would like me to, but often times writing these forces me to process and synthesize my scattered thoughts into a more coherent point. I must admit that I don't really know where I am going this month, but I humbly ask you to join me for this journey!
I have been mulling over the meaning of "community" in recent days. This word means different things to different people, and means something very different in a biblical context. The mayor of my home town said a week or two ago "the Greensboro community". I don't know how 250,000 people can be in one community. I have read many articles in recent months referring to "the black community". I freely acknowledge that I am [very] white, and could never empathize with some of the experiences many of our black neighbors have shared, but I find it difficult to lump 42,000,000 people scattered across 50 different states into one "community". I have also recently read about several of the rifts cutting through "the L.G.B.T.Q.+ community". This seems to be the height of irony to me, because if groups are becoming increasingly divided, why would we refer to a singular "community" at all. I think "the Walnut Cove community" has a bit more standing; first, 4,000 people seem a more appropriate size to be described by this word, and second, because roots tend to run a bit deeper here, cultivating a sense of identity.
Though I tend to reject many of the world's uses of "community", I do think that the themes of identifying and solidarity are important. Let's circle back to "the black community": as fellow members of a particular racial minority, our black neighbors may genuinely experience a bond to and with one another that is quite foreign to us as white folks in the majority. I don't want to discount this sense of identity at all, but I would argue that our increasingly globalized society suffers from a tendency to lump people according to which boxes they check rather than getting to know people as individuals. In an age of digital communication, people can choose to become part of a group (enter "the Fortnite community"), engaging with one another online around common interests, all the while becoming more and more isolated, lacking genuine friendship.
Let's contrast this secular use of "community" with a biblical one. Scripture teaches us that to know one another and be known by one another is very important. Not only does this assume individualization, it drives toward intimacy. It’s one thing to know something about someone; it’s something entirely different to know someone as a brother in Christ. Genuine community is something that we all crave. In this sense, the world gets it right, because we all desire to be loved and accepted. We will never, however, find the love and acceptance we all need apart from the true unity found in the love of God.
Romans 1:11-12 gives us a picture of Christian community - strengthening and encouraging each other by practicing spiritual gifts. Hebrews 10:24-25 also help us understand a biblical "community" encouraging one another, provoking each other to love and good works. This carries even more weight in light of verses 19-23: holding onto our confession and drawing near as we enter the sanctuary. As we draw near to the Christ, it stands to reason that we would naturally draw near to one another as brothers and sisters. Couple these ideas with the most common New Testament word to describe Christian community: koinonia. This is the share which one has in anything, joint participation, fellowship. When we celebrate with those who rejoice, and weep with those who mourn, we are living out biblical community.
After 13 months of lacking much of what makes "community" biblical, and living in a culture where these truths are increasingly misunderstood, or even dismissed, I have found myself craving true community. I long for prayer gatherings where we bear burdens together before the Lord. I miss three-hour lunches where I get to know people at a much deeper level, or where old friends hold me accountable, challenge me, and encourage me all in one! I miss "bro hugs". I miss friends knowing what I was struggling with last week, or sharing excitement with me this week.
As we continue the process of regathering, our children's ministries will be operating with more regularity. This will enable us to resume Wednesday activities, move toward holding Sunday School classes again, begin more small groups, and RESTART THE CHOIR!!!!! As we do, let me leave you with two more thoughts. First, biblical community results in life transformation. We should strive for high-quality life-on-life intentional relationships, study of God's Word, and outward reaching mission emphasis. If we neglect to strive for any of these three, we won't achieve full life transformation. Second, deeper friendships, accountability relationships, spiritual growth environments, maximum participation, and missional opportunity are all more robust as this sense of community is smaller and more tightly-knit. Therefore, reproducing small groups are the best vehicle to experience biblical community. Pray about how God might lead you to commit to this sense of community in the months ahead as we continue the regathering process!
Let us sing now everyone; let us feel His love begun;
let us join our hands that the world will know we are one in the bond of love!
Rev. Andrew J. Reynolds