What would it look like to build community with servanthood as the foundation, to shift from an independent mindset to interdependence?
Our culture values community with words, but individualism with actions. When the rubber hits the road, it’s often not about “we”; it’s about “me first.” If “we” becomes the end result it’s a bonus. We all love the idea of community, but to love the idea of community will only end in us breaking community. We must truly love one another, preferring one another above ourselves, for authentic community to flow naturally.
The reason community often fails is because we want what we want first. We want our freedom, our dreams, our desires. We have been sold an individualistic message that tells us these come first, but in order for God’s idea of community to manifest, we must lay down our freedom for one another. This is where we know we’re not just talking about love, but living it. Love that is shown through sacrifice is sacred. Jen Pollock Michel puts it this way in her book Teach Us to Want: “Community, you could say, puts a restraint on desire.” There’s a message we don’t hear much of: embracing our restraints for the sake of one another. We are so accustomed to consuming that the idea of investing our lives for the sake of others sounds inspiring but is often the road less travelled.
In church community we often reflect and put our focus on our personal relationship with Christ. We forget that we belong not only to him, but to one another as well. He has chosen his church, his bride, to reveal himself to the world. The way the church loves one another becomes one of the greatest manifestations of God’s love. When cultural, economic, and racial differences are replaced by love and belonging, this reveals God’s idea of “kingdom come” (John 13:35). This cannot be ignored by a world that wants this so badly but continues in war, indifference, and isolation despite its desire. In God-inspired community, the world truly sees Jesus.
It’s important to get past the theory of community, with which most will nod in agreement, and commit to work out the nitty-gritty of what God’s idea of community truly looks like. I believe it starts with a simple statement, “I see you.” In order to “see” one another, we have to remove the blinders that keep us focused on ourselves; when we “see” one another, we take a glimpse into another’s soul. When we do this, our eyes open to see the DNA of our Father placed in one another. We see the wonder of our creator reflecting in the eyes staring back at us. When we can see God in and at work in another’s life, this does wonders for creating community. How?
- It changes the way we hold one another accountable. Instead of seeing sin in the lives of others, we see who people truly are and hold them accountable to that. Because of our great love for one another, we call people up to the destiny and identity they have been given by our Father. The number of pastors who have “failed” morally speak loudest to this. Many are afraid to speak their struggles to their teams because of the judgment that can come as a result, or the fact that we want their gifts to shine for the church. We are afraid of revealing weakness because of what such a revelation could do to the attractive gifts we have grown to love in our leaders. When we love in community, we care more about people than their gifts, more about calling them to who we know they are in Christ than our fears of the weakness they’ve displayed.
- We journey with the broken and commit to them until we see them reach victory. We don’t expect everyone to have it together before they can be part of the community. We are not afraid to get our hands dirty to do whatever it takes to see us all cross the finish line together. For example, I have a homeless, cocaine-addicted friend I met in an underground parking lot. Through many interactions with her, I gave her my cell number and we have become friends. I help her out when she needs it. She’s been isolated, forgotten, and disconnected. Through our friendship, she is realizing she’s not alone and she has now started treatment. There are many out there (who don’t have to be addicts or the homeless) who need our love. They can cross the finish line too if we help them.
- We aren’t afraid of one another. When we see our Father in each other, there is no color of skin, rich or poor, male or female, slave or free. We see the oneness and find the common ground of our adoption into his kingdom. There is an art to “seeing” people. Learning to look into who they are is a gift Jesus offers to each one of us. It’s easy to cast judgment and opinion. The heart of Christ is to stop and gaze upon who a person is, past the outward demeanor. If we practice “seeing” one another on a regular basis, this can become normal.
- Jealously, greed, and pride find no place among us. If we lay down our freedom, we find joy when others succeed. We rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. This means celebrating when others take the positions we wanted, or truly mourning for something we don’t understand that another is walking through. Empathy is a powerful kingdom gift that brings us together, whether we’ve walked through the same issues or not.
- Poverty is eliminated. Being a Pentecostal, I often hear about the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was given to the first believers. I have heard much about the signs and wonders that followed. What I don’t hear much about is how they had no need among them because they gave everything they had and shared. As radical as this sounds, this may be one of the most profound ways to know whether we truly are about community as much as we say we are. There are simple ways of doing this. One is to know the people in our churches. When we aren’t estranged by pews, we can hear one another’s needs. In those moments of hearing need, we can respond by thinking, “Do I have something I can share with them?” Taking care of those around us is really that simple.
If we take his idea of community seriously and are willing to lay down ourselves for the sake of others, we may be on the brink of not only understanding God’s heart, but seeing the cultural shift for the sake of the Kingdom we have all been praying and yearning for.
Connie Jakab is a blogger and author of Culture Rebel: Because the World Has Enough Desperate Housewives. Connie is an active speaker and worship leader, and she lives with her husband and two boys in Calgary, Alberta. She can be found on twitter @ConnieJakab.