I recently came to what you could call an epiphany concerning what community entails, so I figured I would share it with you all.
I’ve always been puzzled by the inability of people to establish community with one another, even among Christians. Some do indeed succeed in this area, but it seems that most groups of people fail to establish community for one reason or another. I’ve wondered why this is and yesterday it occurred to me what the reason for this might be: the failure to realize that each individual must make contributions to the group if community is to be established. A community is not a place that you take from because you need something from the other members, it is a place where you give yourself because the other members need something from you, and where the other members give themselves because you need something from them.
Everybody comes to a community needing just that, community. Community is something that has to be created though, which means that materials need to be contributed and fashioned in order for community to take shape. The basic material that needs to be contributed is love for the other members of the community. I think it is a very rare occurrence for someone to come to a community and naturally have love for the other members of the community, so usually this love must be established somehow. This love for others can be established simply by making an investment in their life. This doesn’t need to involve something huge, or even involve them, it can be something little, like praying for them, asking them how a project at work or school turned out that they previously mentioned, or having a conversation with them watching a game. You don’t have to feel the desire to do these things at first, in fact you probably won’t. But if you force yourself to do them eventually you will come to genuinely love the others and will no longer need to force yourself to do these things.
The point is that everyone needs community, but you cannot gain what you need from community by taking from others, because what you need is to be part of a community and this will not happen until you contribute to the others in the community by loving them. You are only a part of something so long as you contribute to its benefit, otherwise you are a leech. Others need community just as much as you do, if they give themselves and you do not there is nothing for them to receive and you and them will both no longer have community. If everyone gives themselves everyone will get what they desire in community. As long as this is done the community will endure, when this is no longer practiced is when the community will fail.
The lesson for me in this is to share my thoughts, feelings, desires, etc with the people around me and not just keep them to myself and force myself to take an interest in their life, even if I don’t feel like it at first (probably a consequence of being an introvert) because they need them, and I need their thoughts, feelings, love, etc. This is God’s design for us to be in community and help each other because He saw that it was not good for man to be alone and He made a helper suitable for him.
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Lovely post on an important topic. I have often felt convicted for not building up the communities around me in the way I should. It is too easy as a layperson to slip into a pew, listen, and then walk out without contributing. At times I’ve found it despairingly lonely when trying to connect to those in church families, particularly when you feel no one else can relate to your interests; sometimes trying to participate in a community seems to aggravate that loneliness. It can be easier to remain alone with your thoughts and prayers in seclusion than struggle to connect. But what good is any wisdom gained in secluded prayer if you can’t then take that insight to serve or bless those around you? Perhaps I should focus more on how I can minister to others rather than how they can minister to me. So many areas to learn about and grow in this life.