Community, Facebook, Twitter, and Small Groups
I am growing increasingly aware of our society’s need for community. Facebook and Twitter have quickly become icons simply because they scratch this itch and create a way for people to engage. It may sound funny to talk about the church as a community in today’s world. Most people think of the church as a place they go to do activities. Thus, “church” becomes something you drop when you get too many activities in your life.
While many may agree that this isn’t such a good thing, we have been hard-pressed to find an alternative way of looking at it. That’s sad.
Let’s go back to the basics. The word “church” comes from the Greek word, ecclesia. In Ancient Greece, the ecclesia was the gathering of people to discuss matters that would affect society. When the New Testament writers wanted to describe the body of Christ, this was the best word available. As the New Testament writers used the word, it took on a life of its own. The ecclesia was the body of Christ in community.
In our culture, it is hard to have any kind of significant discussion on a Sunday morning as we pass each other on the way into the sanctuary or the classroom. There is rarely time to go beyond a quick discussion in that setting. As a result, many people gave up trying to experience community in church and started looking other places. TV shows like Cheers, and Friends, and Seinfeld painted alternative pictures for community. Why did the church lose this association? I am convinced that it is largely because we have gotten it into our heads that church is that place we go on Sunday mornings. But the place we go is simply a meeting place and the thing we do is worship God corporately. Corporate worship is important because we’re called to gather as the body for worship. But to truly be corporate (pertaining to a “united group”) worship, we must be a real community.
To be a community means to decide important things together, to know each other beyond “how are you and how was your week?” We typically experience this kind of community among family or peers. These are people we are either stuck with or happen to have enough common interests that we’ve had a conversation or three. Eventually, we grow to trusting these people and commit (consciously or unconsciously) ourselves to them. For the church to be a community, there must exist this level of trust and commitment. That’s a hard thing – unless the values and beliefs we share become a stronger bond than the blood we share, or the common interests and activities. Jesus described the church this way. He said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.” We recognize his language as hyperbole. The meaning is that being a disciple of Jesus becomes more important than belonging to your family. That was a HUGE thing to say to a culture driven by family identity. But this is what the church is to be – it is not a place we go or an activity we do but a bond we share. That means that when life gets busy or hard (and we find ourselves not able to participate in some church activity), we should find the community of the church that much more relevant to our lives as they become the people that we lean on to make it through.
How can we get there? We must first believe the gospel is true – that Jesus has in fact given us a new identity in Him. This frees us from trying to find a group within our society from which to squeeze it, and it frees us to commit ourselves to the church – even if it means making sacrifices for them. When we get there, we’ll find that we’re living in community – real community. Are you ready for that?