God and Community
Why do we need community? What role do others play in our spiritual growth? The Curiosity Collective brings together thought leaders, subject matter experts, pastors, and theologians to examine where community fits into our spiritual lives.
Questions for Discussion and Personal Reflection
- Can you think of a time in your life when being around others changed your behavior, your thoughts, or your mind-set—either for better or for worse?
- Does keeping our faith personal and private limit our spiritual growth?
I think the things that actually you know, without just blowing smoke anywhere, um, about my own spiritual growth I think I really only grew around other people. I always seemed to be inspired by people, and I would actually go ask them to help me to become more like them as they followed Jesus. It was literally mentoring or what we call apprenticing or discipleship type of environments that I grew. I love the scripture so I, I would read pretty well on my own, but I didn't know how to talk to God so I would I would be around people that seem to talk to God really easily, and I think that would rub off on me. Um... I wasn't really that good at, at caring for the poor. Um... I just didn't really care, and so to grow in that area, I would, I would find people that just had a natural love for the, for the poor, and I would go be with them and it was amazing that, um, I'm not Mr., you know, ministry-to-the-poor, but I'm way better than I used to be and there's a natural love for the marginalized now so I think real spiritual growth happens when you're desperate enough to actually grow and then you go ask for help. I just don't think you'll grow unless you ask for help. Um, you weren't really meant to grow by yourself. You were, you were really meant to grow as a body or with people and so if you just wanna grow in concepts, you can just roll into church and grab a few nuggets for the week. Um... you can download a sermon. Um, but if you actually want to see change in your life, I think you actually have to grab a few friends and go, "hey, I need some help with this area of my life," and then expose yourself to the things where God says you're gonna grow if you get there so do it with some friends together. There will be some natural accountability, some natural growth that will happen.
I find in New York, I think everyone just kind of... they, they are who they are and there's not really this masking or hiding and it was really refreshing, especially as a Christian, to sit around a group of women that, that bear their burdens and their struggles, and pain, and wounds, and we all of a sudden realize we're not alone, and that we have someone that's willing to walk with us and lean into the broken pieces of us that we don't often want to show or reveal because we're afraid they'll run. When we struggle with depression or anxiety, we tend to cave in. The last thing we want to do is go to a party. We'd rather sit in our PJ's for eight days and eat ice cream and that is the moment where someone needs to just reach out and say, "Hey I see you. You're fading. What's going on?" And, and we don't always know how to even engage that, but when that person leans in, and stays there, and doesn't have an answer to fix it, we don't want a solution; we want you just to be there. Then all of a sudden I think through that community, God really knit us for community. He created us to need it, and when we have it, the loneliness subsides and the strength, um, rallies around us, and the secrets that we have— all of a sudden— they lose power when they exit the dark, and the strongholds we might feel, don't— are not as heavy the minute we're sharing that, and, and bearing that with those that we love.
A lot of people would say why, why church? We don't need it. And, and yet, you know, church— not so much church as in this religious institution, but church as in people— we do need, uh, and that's what God, that's what God's desire is for the church. You know, he talks about it like his body. Like, we all have different unique gifts and abilities, and... we're wired differently, and yet we make up all these parts as we listen and respond to him together of representing him in the world and, and doing the kinds of things that he did together in the world. I mean, really what God is trying to do is he's trying to infuse his kingdom— his will and ways— into the kingdoms of this world, and the kingdoms of this world— the way we deal with each other— is, is we all play God, right? I mean, that's where I've been. I want my will and ways done. I mean, if I'm honest when I go through my days it's just natural for me to think most about me, and my will, and my ways, and what I want done, and when you don't cooperate or even when God doesn't cooperate, I get mad. I get frustrated. I get angry, and when it gets really nasty, we try to control, and dominate, and manipulate, and coerce, and abuse one another to get our will and ways done. And so I think what God is doing is he's taking any willing person and through our willingness as we learn to love him and seek His will and ways first, then his kingdom— his will and ways— can break into our lives and our relationships and begin to change the way we do things together so that we form a, a new kind of family, not a family that, um, that, that manipulates or lies to one another or uses one another or you know, hurts one another but heals one another, and then as this new family that extends out, we care about those around us who don't have that you know, who have felt discouraged, and abused, or put down, or broken, or condemned. And so we become his body. That's what the church is meant to be: his family, his body going into the world, uh, really to restore what's been broken, what's been lost.
You know, when you go to a movie, and you're sitting there, and the preview comes on— the trailer comes on— and if you're sitting with your spouse you look at them, and she says we're going to see that or we're not going to see that. The church is supposed to be the place where the love of God is so beautifully on display that the world says, we've got to see that. We have a reputation in several of the neighborhoods where we have churches where people have come to Christ, and they've said, "where can I find somebody to love me like you guys love each other?" And I said, "Well, we're right here." One beautiful story, um, there was a... a group of friends in my neighborhood. Uh, a homeless bloke came up to them and said, Hey, can I have some money? And they said, "Uh, we don't have any money but we're about to go to dinner. Do you want to come and eat a meal with us?" So he came into the house, had dinner with them, was so impacted by their love, he said, I gotta tell you something here. Um, I actually need to go back to prison. I owe some time, uh, to the state, but I'm so compelled by the way you live and your hospitality. He became a part of their small group, went back and did his time. When he came out, they helped him get a, uh, an apartment so he could get settled in. They threw a massive party, stocked his, uh, fridge and freezer, and gave him everything he needed and then, uh, baptized him as a member of our church, and when I go to church and preach, he's sitting in the front row with his hands raised singing, "Hallelujah!" I mean, it's a true, beautiful story of seeing people the way God sees them and doing for others what you'd want done for yourself. The church, when it's working properly, gives people a tangible encounter of what it feels like to be loved by Jesus, and so you get the richness of that community that's a part of it. It's messy, as is any relationship, but it's rich, and it's completely worth it.
There's this, uh, this group, uh, that I've learned this from, a group called 3DM, and they talk about communities being— or actually they talk about relationships— having an "up" component, an "in" component, and an "out" component, and I'm sort of taking that to talk about church in general, where there's this idea that a healthy church community would have an "up" component, where there's a sense of something beyond our world that is intersecting with us, and a chance to engage that. And then an in component, where the relationships are authentic, where we support each other, we help each other learn and grow to do the things that Jesus did for the reasons that he did them. And then there's a, uh... an "out" component, a, a chance to talk about these things beyond our walls, a chance to, to take the things that we've received to bring good to others, and if you have "up" and an "out," you can see a lot of churches usually do one or two of those really well, but if you're able to do all three: "up," "in," and "out," that could be a, a sign of something wonderful. But ultimately at its core, it's a group— a community— that loves Jesus and does what he does for the reasons that he does them.