Humans are hard-wired to be in relationships. We are hard-wired to be in relationships because we are made in the image of God (the imago Dei). In Genesis 1: 26-27 it says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us…So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (New Living Translation).
Eugene H. Peterson, in commenting on this communal relationship of the Triune God, writes,
Trinity understands God as three-personed: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God in community, each “person” in active communion with the others.
Because we are “image bearers” of the Living and Triune God, we too are to be in relationships and in community with one another. The word community is a combination of the Latin prefix com, which means “with” or “together,” and the word unity which means “the quality or condition of being one in purpose or sentiment.” Unity also denotes the idea of harmony. And so when I think of Christian community, I think of Christ-followers who are in harmonious relationships having the same purpose and of the same outlook (Philippians 2: 1-11).
Unfortunately, there are impediments that can stifle authentic Christian community to flourish. Here are a few:
A misunderstanding of community. If you have lived through a certain decade, your idea of community may have conjured up images of “flower people” living together in the country growing their own organic foods. Or perhaps you have heard that real community consists of a radical lifestyle that causes people to move from the burbs and live in the inner city to engage in ministry. Certainly the above examples do and have existed, but that is not the kind of community I am talking about.
An insistence and penchant towards individualism. Okay, before you roll your eyes, I want to affirm that our American DNA is codified by our fierce proclivity towards independence and individuality. Deep within us is a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps ethos and many of us can point to this as our story. But this tendency is a two-edged sword—it can trap us into a my-way-or-the-highway attitude and we become extremely reluctant to give up our individual preferences for the sake of others.
An attachment to an “insider-outsider” mindset. This for me is the most troubling impediment. We have certainly seen this in our national landscape in its ugliest forms recently, but it exist in our churches in subtle forms. In churches that I have served, I have had conversations with people who say that they have been members for x-number of years (usually a decade or more), but still feel they are outsiders. The surprising thing is that those who espouse this “insider-outsider” mindset would be appalled if this was mentioned to them.
So what does Christian community look like? First, it is not perfect. We are broken people in a broken world but are redeemed and forgiven by a gracious God. Second, it can be messy. Messy spirituality, in the words of the late Michael Yaconelli, “is a celebration of discipleship that is under construction.” We are in process. Third, there is an openness and acceptance to the full array of God’s people—socially, economically, and ethnically. Fourth, there is an invitation to be engaged in some form of service. Serving others allows us to be reminded that all that we are, all that we have, and all that we hope to be is because of God. And finally, Christian community offers each growing Christian the gift of accountability to each other.
As a way to study this marvelous notion we call community, I invite you to study as a small group, prayer group, a men’s or women’s group, a department or ministry team the Fellowship Community’s bible study on community: One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism and One
God and Father of All. It is only four studies so it is a perfect way to launch the fall 2017 with your group. You will find the link here: http://www.fellowship.community/wp-content/uploads/FC-One-Lord-One-Faith-Bible-Study-FINAL.pdf.
In this season, in the life and ministry of West Side Presbyterian Church, my hope and prayer is that we all drink deeply from this well we call Christian community so that in doing so, we can together express the compassion, grace, love, presence and power of the Living and Triune God to a deeply broken world that desperately wants to hear a message of hope.
Warmly in Christ,
 Eugene H. Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2005), 45.
 Michael Yaconelli, Messy Spirituality (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 26.