There’s a lot of talk in Christian circles about “community,” “spiritual friendship,” and “doing life together.” It sounds like something we all want in our churches, and we work hard to create it. We start programs and provide groups for every age and life circumstance. We offer the best coffee on Sunday mornings so people will linger and talk. We organize fun events and get-togethers.
But is all of that really community?
Community is God’s idea. He is a community in Himself: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The Triune community has existed for all eternity past, loving, serving, exalting, and glorifying one another within the Godhead. When God created mankind, He chose to share that community with us so that we could experience the love and fellowship God has always known.
Genesis 1:26 tells us that God created mankind in His image. One of the ways we image God is by being in community with others. That’s why God said that one thing was missing in His creation (Gen. 2:18). He created Eve to live in community with Adam, and together they would reflect the Triune community. And they did so, until they fell into sin and broke community with God and each other.
Jesus came to redeem and restore us back into right relationship with God and one another. Through His life, death, and resurrection, Jesus created a new community, the Church. This new community is made up of redeemed saints, who, by faith, are adopted into the family of God. The Church is a family, and we are all children of God, making the relationships we have with other women in the church even closer than a sister. “I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor. 6:18).
The Greek word koinonia is used in the New Testament to refer to the new relationship formed among believers united in Christ. It is most often written as “fellowship” in our Bibles. When the early church met together, Luke tells us, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
Often when we think of fellowship in the church, we think of Wednesday night spaghetti dinner in the church fellowship hall. Or we might think of the time between Sunday school and worship where we stand around with our coffee and catch up on each other’s week. The fellowship described in the New Testament goes deeper than chatting over a cup of coffee. It’s more than talking with other ladies before Tuesday morning Bible study begins about the latest remarkable thing our child did. It’s more than joining a small group, attending a banquet, or serving on a committee.
The fellowship that the Bible describes in Acts is that of sharing a common life together. As Jerry Bridges noted in his book True Community:
The first Christians of Acts 2 were not devoting themselves to social activities but to a relationship—a relationship that consisted of sharing together the very life of God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. They understood that they had entered this relationship by faith in Jesus Christ, not by joining an organization. And they realized that their fellowship with God logically brought them into fellowship with one another. Through their union with Christ, they were formed into a spiritual organic community.
Sharing a common life together is not about doing activities but about sharing spiritual life. It is about working together to bring about God’s kingdom purposes. It is about serving together, helping each other through trials, reminding each other of the gospel, lifting each other up when we fall, praying for one another, and urging one another on in the faith. And ultimately, it is reflecting Christ in our love for one another, imaging Him to the fallen world around us.
God is the One who creates community, but we need to cultivate it. We need to nurture, foster, and encourage it in our churches. Certainly, we can drink coffee together, participate in a fun event, or enjoy one another’s company, but those activities are the means for community; they aren’t community in themselves.
Cultivating community in your ministry starts with the leadership. When leaders make community part of the rhythms and expected ways of the church, the members will follow their lead. Here are a few ways to cultivate community in your ministry.
Christian community involves meeting each other’s needs. In Acts 2, the believers shared what they had with each other. Peter tells us to use our gifts to serve one another (1 Peter 4:10). We can cultivate community by helping one another. One of the easiest ways is to provide meals for those who are sick, recovering from surgery, just had a baby, or moved into a new home. We can offer to babysit children for a mother who needs help. We can mow the yard for a widow. In serving one another, we show the love of Christ to our sisters.
Christian community involves spiritual encouragement. Hebrews calls us to encourage one another in the faith (3:13, 10:24). As leaders, we can model for others in the church how to encourage someone with the hope they have in the gospel. We can do so in our interactions with other women in the church. Rather than telling someone we will pray for them, we can stop right where we are and pray with our sister in the Lord. We can remind a hurting sister of God’s great love for them in Christ. We can be open and honest with others about our struggles, doubts, and temptations to sin, helping other women to see that we are all sinners saved by grace; not one of us has it all together. We all need God’s grace.
First Peter 4:9 says, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” One of the best ways to cultivate community is in our homes. The home is where we are most ourselves. It is a warm, intimate setting where we can share spiritual life with one another. Set an example by inviting people into your home. Have a new family over for a meal. Invite young moms over for a play date. Host a discipleship group in your home. As we feast on bread that nourishes our physical body, we can rejoice together over the Bread of Life who nourishes our very soul.
Community is also cultivated in the context of discipleship. The best description of this in the Bible is in Titus 2 when older women are called to instruct younger women in how to live out the gospel. Such relationships are more than mere biblical instruction; it is investing in another’s spiritual life. As the older woman learns about a younger woman’s hopes and dreams, fears and heartaches, sins and temptations, she can help her apply the gospel to all areas of her life.
Though God created community through the blood of Christ, we need to cultivate it. It takes work and effort. We have to invite people into our hearts and lives. As leaders in ministry, start cultivating community in your own life and others will follow. Let us all strive to live out the community Christ died to create.