Life in Community | Expectations of Community
The Life in Community series highlights aspects of our life lived together in community through a mixture of theology, vision, and personal stories. Cornerstone Communities are the primary means of forming meaningful discipling relationships where we can be known, encouraged, and challenged by brothers and sisters in our body, and live out the “one another” commandments in our daily lives.
In his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes both the blessings and the challenges of a Christian community and how our own expectations have a significant role to play in our participation in and experience of community. As we enter a new year and a new season with our communities, let’s consider what community is and what we can and should expect, as well as what we cannot and should not expect.
Christian community, in the broader sense, happens throughout the life of the church: in Sunday gatherings as well as in our Cornerstone Communities, Discipleship Groups, and interpersonal interactions. It is a gift for believers in the present church age used to strengthen, equip, build-up, encourage, exhort, and care for one another. In DCC, we speak about our Cornerstone Communities as the place where we can get to know others and be known by others; where we primarily live out the “one another” commands to love our brothers and sisters in Christ; and where we form meaningful, mutually-edifying, discipling relationships. And it is our sincere desire that everyone who calls DCChome would have such a community.
BLESSINGS OF A CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY
Bonhoeffer describes the nature and very tangible good of the Christian community, which suggests some healthy expectations for community:
- First, the desire for Christian community – the companionship and presence of other believers in our lives – is natural and reflects God’s own trinitarian nature in us as his image bearers. Moreover, God works through various means to achieve his purposes, and by his grace, we get to be part of those means in our care for each other such that when we visit, comfort, or exhort another we are a tangible sign of God’s grace to our brother or sister. So we should expect that we would show the love of Christ to others, and be shown the love of Christ by others (Gal 5:13)
- Secondly, the Christian community is a gift and a privilege and not a guarantee or an entitlement. Like any of God’s gifts, God distributes according to his varied grace (1 Cor 12:18). Realizing it is a gift should lead us to thankfulness for what we have received. It should also lead us to understand the purpose of a Christian community, like the other gifts, is to build up the church and should be motivated by love for others (1 Cor 12:7, 13:1-13).
- Thirdly, we have only one foundation for this community: Jesus Christ, who is our peace with God and with each other. Christ’s work on our behalf enables us to be in relationship with God and with other adopted sons and daughters in his family (Eph. 2:13-14). We should expect that we have this common ground that brings us together, and that our community is not rooted in anything else. Of course, it is great to find shared interests with those in our community, but those shared interests are secondary and are not required for a Christian community.
CHALLENGES OF A CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY
Bonhoeffer also speaks some cautions about community, particularly on our desires for and expectations of the community. He writes this:
Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it has sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams…. Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.
- We can often import our desires to be loved, or expectations of others to be more to us than they ought, into our communities. And so we must be aware of whether or not we’re seeking community in and through Christ alone, or if we’re seeking something else. It is possible that we would make an idol out of the community (along with any other good thing) if we allow it to become the ultimate thing. (Phil 3:8)
- We must realize that our Christian community is one that serves to point each other to Christ, and not to be Christ himself. We are not saved through a community, but we are encouraged and pointed to Christ in a community. (1 Cor 3:5-9) Realizing too that we’re not perfect, we should expect that there will be times when we sin against and are sinned against by others in our community. That does not mean we should seek to sin against each other, but rather that we should be in the practice of confession and forgiveness when we do sin (James 5:16, Col 3:13).
- We must also be careful not to seek out simply the relational connection of human affection or emotional experience. Surely, we can hope to experience affection and positive emotions in our connection with one another, but this is a byproduct, not the end in itself, of the spiritual reality of being united in Christ and therefore must not be the driver for our expectations. In Romans 12:10 Paul actually instructs us to have brotherly affection – which is to say, we are to shape our affections for others in the body, not to base our participation in the body on our existing affections.
OUR ROLE IN A CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY
Taken together, these encouragements can help us calibrate our desires and expectations for our communities. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, they call us to participate in building these healthy communities. So, for those already in a Cornerstone Community, I’d encourage you in these ways:
- Start with thanksgiving to God for the gift of community that you already have, rather than to lament the community you don’t yet have. Pray for those in your community – by name, and often. Reach out to others with prayers and encouragements for them.
- Use your gifts to serve and encourage others in love, for God’s glory and their good. Ask “How might God use me to bless those in my community?” rather than asking “What will I get from this community?”
- Commit to being an active part of your community. You can only grow in knowing others and being known by showing up. Invite those who are new to your community to grab a coffee and start to get to know each other.
If you’re not yet in a Cornerstone Community, get started with the Foundations class, which lays the groundwork for our life together in DCC. The next class starts this Sunday, 1/13, at 9a. You can read more details and register here.