the weblog of Alan Knox

Building community…

Posted by on May 27, 2007 in community, fellowship | 18 comments

A few months ago, I posted a blog called “Community of what?” In this post I suggested that the kind of community that people need is only found through a common relationship with God through the Holy Spirit. I concluded that post by saying:

I believe that Christian community must be built upon our shared existence in Jesus Christ through the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Anything else may be community, but is it the community that we need?

As I have been thinking about this, I’ve realized how easy it is to attempt to build community on anything other than our shared existence – shared life – in Jesus Christ. For example, consider the following definitions of “community” from Princeton’s wordnet:

  • A group of people living in a particular local area.
  • Common ownership.
  • A group of nations having common interests.
  • Agreement as to goals.
  • A district where people live; occupied primarily by private residences.
  • A group of interdependent organisms inhabiting the same region and interacting with each other.

In each of these definitions, those who are living in community share something in common, whether it is a location, or a possession, or an interest, or a goal. These last two (sharing interests or goals) can encompass many different concepts: such as personalities, ideologies, religious affiliations, hobbies, political parties, profession, etc.

Thus, community can be created around any of these concepts. And, as long as people are creating community, then they must agree upon the focus of that community – in other words, they must agree (either intentionally or unintentionally) upon the commonality shared by the group.

Many groups of believers claim (and believe) that their community is built upon their common relationship through God – that is, they are a community because they are family in Christ. They state that what they share in common is God himself. However, circumstances sometimes demonstrate that this is not reality.

For example, a popular (or unpopular) leader leaves, and the community falls apart. For some, this indicates that the community was based on a personality – an individual. Or, perhaps the community falls apart when a certain activity is stopped or started. This indicates that the community was based on a common activity. Other things have caused communities to fail: music styles, preaching/teaching styles, building concerns, finances, new (different) people. There are many ways that communities fall apart, and in each case, whatever causes the community to fall apart is the very thing on which the community was based – the thing which the people shared in common and in which they found their being – whether this is acknowledged or not.

Unfortunately, when people build community, they have no choice other than building the community around something that they share in common. When that thing is lost, the community fails. People become responsible for building the community, maintaining the community, and protecting the community.

When God builds community, he builds it around himself. The community may participate in a common activity (teaching, prayer, singing, etc.), but the activity does not define the community. If the activity ceases or changes, the community continues. The community may have a common goal (discipleship, missions, evangelism, etc.), but the goal does not define the community. If the goal changes, the community continues. The community may have popular and/or unpopular leaders, but the leaders do not define the community. When the leadership changes, the community continues.

When God builds community, he builds it around himself. If everything is removed except God himself, the community continues. Why? Because God is responsible for building, maintaining, and protecting the community through the work of the Holy Spirit.

How can we tell if we are living in a community built by God, or a community built by people? If removing or changing anything (other than God) would cause the community to collapse, then the community is not built by and upon God, the community is not being maintained by God, or the community is not protected by God.


18 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 5-28-2007

    Alan,

    Excellent post!

    I think many of our misunderstandings and disagreements with other believers come from failing to make the distinction you correctly point out here between Christian “community” and sharing common goals. I believe it is legitimate, at times, to join with specific groups of other believers in the pursuit of common goals. This may mean making a decision to not join with other groups of believers in the pursuit of these same goals. However, we should never let our differences on the pursuit of these goals get in the way of our “community” we share in our common relationship with Christ and the Holy Spirit.

    Also, this “community” is not just theory. It is “practice” as well, and is fleshed out in all of the various “one another” admonitions in the New Testament.

  2. 5-28-2007

    alan – have you done in reading on the concept of communitas? if not – give it a peek – i think you will discover some helpful thoughts.

  3. 5-28-2007

    David,

    I agree. Community that is merely theory is not theory at all. The “one anothers” are certainly a reflection of our community – or lack thereof.

    Rob,

    I didn’t understand your question: “have you done in reading on the concept of communitas”. Did you leave out a word, or am I missing something?

    -Alan

  4. 5-29-2007

    And God is not theological construct.

  5. 5-29-2007

    darn – i was hoping you would break the code. “in” needs to be replaced with “any” – have you done any reading regarding communitas/communitates?

    michael frost, in the book “exiles” does an awesome job presenting this concept. another book on my shelf, which i have not gotten to yet, “the forgetten ways” – also has a chapter on the concept.

    i think you will like this concept.

  6. 5-29-2007

    Does the notion of “love” belong in this definition of community that you’ve pointed out, Alan, or is that something that would just go without saying?

  7. 5-29-2007

    David,

    I meant to say: “Community that is merely theory is not community at all.”

    Bryan,

    Perhaps many Christian communities are built on theologies instead of on God himself? Perhaps we should see God as the first person – primary person – in this community?

    Rob,

    Thanks for clarifying. I have not read either of those books. However, The Forgotten Ways is on my reading list.

    Jake,

    Love certainly belongs in this definition of community – as do all of the fruits of the Spirit. The love that we need is the love that God generates within us, instead of trying to generate emotions and feelings toward other people on our own.

    -Alan

  8. 5-29-2007

    The personality of the leadership has become waaaay too important in the church in America (Unless, of course, you’re talking about the Personality of the Head of the church, rather than that of the senior pastor).

    As you continue to post on this, I’m getting the drift of what you had to say about planting. Many “church plants” lately come about from a leadership group, rather than from an organic gathering of Christians.

  9. 5-30-2007

    David,

    I’m glad you decided to keep reading. Yes, I think communities are often built around leaders, or, even if the community was not created around a leader, it is often maintained around a charismatic leader. This could also be said of different activities and ideologies as well.

    -Alan

  10. 5-31-2007

    alan – i found an audio link of alan hirsch sharing about communitas. i think you will enjoy it. it starts about two minutes into the file. communitas

  11. 6-1-2007

    Rob,

    Thank you for the link. I listened to the first few minutes, but I’ll have to finish it later. By the way, I have enjoyed reading your blog.

    -Alan

  12. 6-4-2007

    good deal – i appreciate the feedback.

  13. 2-22-2013

    Ok, my thoughts took a different track from the usual in reading this post. “Usual” for me is, yes, Christian community must be focused on and grown out of our mutual experience in Jesus. But going on from that, considering that our communities often “fail” when a particular person or activity is removed from the equation, got me wondering: if a community falls apart, is that proof that it was being held together by something other than Christ?

    I grew up in a tight community (I was part of it from 5 years old until 27) where we all strove to focus together on Christ, His will, and living with and for Him as well as with and for each other. And there was extreme social pressure to do so. Yep, when the pastor died, so did the community.

    But there is something else I learned from that. It seems that without some type of pressure–without being forced into it, humans resist tight community. We thrive on variety rather than repetitious disciplines. It seems more natural to enjoy periods of closeness, followed by refreshing periods of alone time. Some of that is because our sinful nature wants to do its own thing, but sometimes it comes from godly wisdom in living in and around other fallen humans.

    What I’m trying to say is, I don’t believe that thriving and unending community is proof of His Lordship. In this life, it must be that it comes and goes. Our Shepherd Jesus leads us to guard against focusing on anything other than our Lord and against over-controlling leadership, etc. And yes, many communities fail due to these things. But at the same time, we must rest in Him, learning to love each other with His love as we wade in and out of community.

  14. 2-22-2013

    Esther,

    I agree with what you’ve said. If I could ask other questions to continue this discussion, it would be these: How do we distinguish between God leading us into “refreshing periods of alone time” and us choosing to move away from community because of the work involved? At times, do you think we can mistake our own desires for God’s? If so, then how would we tell the difference?

    -Alan

  15. 2-27-2013

    For sure we can make that mistake of following our own desires.

    I believe we must proceed carefully, listening to our conscience, and following the Holy Spirit, because others will be effected in community. Every situation is unique and we can ask God as King David did to “search my heart, see if there be any wicked way in me and lead me in Your path.” We weigh out whether we are looking out for our own benefit, versus responsibly protecting weaker ones. We weigh out whether we’re under guilt trips from others versus feeling conviction from Jesus.

    It is really important to learn this, because there are limitless ways we can be adversely influenced by well-meaning Christians, sometimes manipulated, sometimes even taken advantage of in serious ways. I believe God has lead me through confusing times by scriptures, His conviction, and advice of trusted mentors. Remembering that His yoke is easy and His burden is light adds a heap of wisdom to the mix.

    If we feel condemned that our man-made alliances don’t progress into long-standing, more and more fruitful community, we can take the worry to Him and see how He measures it. But always be open to community, fellowship, and building up His temple; trusting Him to lead and iron out the difficulties we cannot avoid. Just as we wouldn’t throw away the institution of marriage and family because we all fail in it here and there, we shouldn’t avoid developing a healthy community with members of our spiritual family just because it is flawed by our sinful natures.

  16. 2-27-2013

    Esther,

    That’s a great response. Thank you for taking the time to think through my question and answering here.

    -Alan

  17. 2-28-2013

    I got an email this morning from the online webinar company, BrightTalk, that demonstrated a couple of types of community “centers.”

    Six ways to build a community with webinars

    According to a Frost & Sullivan whitepaper (http://tinyurl.com/cyk39ex), developing communities around content is an effective way to increase the value of webinars. It allows members to feel engaged with the overall content stream and makes it easy to browse related material. It also compounds on itself, which, when sustained, leads to a more effective marketing effort.

    Unlike a social network, which is focused on the individual, an online community gathers around a common purpose, such as gaining knowledge on a particular topic or learning about an industry. Furthermore, dynamic content like webinars and video facilitates an engaging interaction between presenter and audience through built-in features such as live questions, audience polls, and audience-to-presenter chat. Read the full article

  18. 2-28-2013

    Art,

    Thanks for the link. I’ll read that paper.

    -Alan