Nothing compares to the depth and richness of authentic Christ-centered community. Those who have experienced it know it’s unmatched value. They also know that it does not come without loyal, mutual investments of time, energy, and emotion among its participants.
Most Christians long for this kind of community, where they are known and valued, where they feel a real sense of belonging, where there is shared purpose and meaning. Where we can know that we matter significantly to others and that they matter deeply to us.
Interconnectivity. People I can trust. People who know me and love me. People I can call on at 3am with an emergency who I’m certain would not think twice about rushing to my aid (and who know I would joyfully do the same for them).
Community is interesting. It cannot be manufactured through a sheer act of will, and yet we cannot simply expect to just sit around and magically “receive” it like an entitlement. Community doesn’t just happen to us. It is certainly something that can be provided for and resourced externally, but even a hospitable and well-equipped Christian environment requires the faithful engagement and mutual maintenance of its members to really succeed.
We should expect real, deep, meaningful community – Yes! But we should not expect that it will just be served up for us on a silver platter. It takes hard work. It takes time. It takes pushing through the uncomfortable barriers, both real and imagined, that can exist between people.
It takes opening up to others. It takes inviting others to open up to us. It takes celebrating the joys and achievements of others without envy. It takes entering into the pain and hardships that others are experiencing without strings attached.
It takes prayer with and for others. It takes sharing in Biblical discussions with others, listening to God’s messages together and meditating on His truth together. It takes worshipping Him together and regularly sharing in the sacraments with one another.
This is why the writer of Hebrews said “do not forsake meeting together” in Hebrews 10:25. This is also why Jesus instructed His disciples to share bread and juice together in remembrance of Him. This is why we have such an idealized view of the 1st-century Church: they were committed to Christ-centered community with one another, with all of its joys and aggravations.
They were committed to following Jesus – together.
Authentic Christ-centered community is every bit the real possibility in the 21st-Century that it was in the 1st-Century. But it takes a commitment among its participants to follow Jesus together, remaining devoted to each other as the primary demonstration of our devotion to Jesus.
If you have been longing for real community, I plead with you not to give up. There are others around you longing for the same thing. Keep praying for it, and keep acting on those prayers by being for others the kind of friend you are so desperately longing for in other people. Yes, it will often go unrequited. Yes, remaining open means the probability of pain. But it is the same stuff within us that receives pain that also experiences deep love and great inner value.
Remain open. Keep investing yourself in the community God has you in now: that may be your neighborhood, or apartment complex, or dorm, or church. And never ever ever give up. Authentic community doesn’t occur accidentally. Building and maintaining it is a manual process that must be entered into deliberately. It takes significant investment, but the dividends it pays are priceless!