Is Community Optional?

The last couple weeks, I’ve found myself involved with a number of conversations that were quite similiar.  Each of them was really about community, and the role of the church in cultivating community.

(Church here meaning both the global church in general and Fellowship Church in particular.)

I identified three questions that were worth looking at.  The one I’m focused on today:

Is community optional?

I think the answer to that question is “No.”

In one of the conversations I’ve had about community, the other person said, essentially, that they felt like a community-oriented church is o.k.  for people who are into community.  But they suggested that others might prefer a church that wasn’t focused on community.  Perhaps they’d be into a “Spirit-filled” church.  Maybe they’d prefer a church which was more doctrinally-driven.

First off, I think that The Holy Spirit works through community and lives in the space between them.  Secondly, I think that one of the most important doctrines a church can have is an emphasis on community.  Therefore, either a community-focused church will be spirit filled and a doctrinally based church must emphasize community.

I am not saying that every church should be like my church in most ways.  There are countless negotiable aspects of a church.  I would go so far as to suggest that there is more solid scriptural support for the importance of community than there is for having music at all in a worship service.  I would go so far as to say that there is more solid scriptural support for the importance of community than there is for the idea that a church ought to have a building, than there is for the idea that a service ought to fit the music-sermon-music/offering format.    I bet I’m going to make some people mad on this one, but I’ve even say you have to work harder to find the notion of the trinity in the bible than you do to find the importance of community.

I am not saying that scripture does not support any of the above ideas, particularly the trinity.  I am saying that the evidence seems more clear and plain for the importance of community.

I am also not saying that community is all a church needs.  But it’s almost all.  I haven’t studied this question, but tenatively, I would venture the position that worship of God, recognition that Christ rose from the grave, and community are the only true essentials for a group to be called a church.

I would submit that you can’t have love without community, and that you can’t have community with out love.  If I’m right on this, then some of the support I’d offer for the importance of community follow:

* Jesus saying that the most important thing is love of God and love of neighbor.

* Jesus saying that by our love they show know us.

* Paul saying that speaking in every language, prophesying, understanding everything, these are essentially meaningless without love.

I think it’d be easy to find verses that discuss the importance of other things.  I think it’d be quite difficult to point to verses that establish other things as more important than love.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

2 thoughts on “Is Community Optional?”

  1. Community is the most essential part of Christianity. It even outdates the scriptures. The community is the presence of God in the world and the carriers of the Word, whether it is written down or spoken from the indwelling Spirit. Community is the only thing we cannot give up. It is the only thing we cannot escape, without forfeiting Christ.

    The Orthodox have a saying: You can be damned alone, but you cannot be saved alone.

    Yet there was Mary of Egypt, a converted 4th century prostitute, who went to church maybe once in her life and received comunion only twice. She lived in the desert of Transjordan and was totally naked. She was discovered by “divine accident” by a monk from a monastery near the Jordan River, to whom she told her life story, and then a year after that first meeting, was found dead, laying face down in the sand by the same monk who primised he would come back to visit her in one year.

    Mystery upon mystery, the Body of Christ!


  2. Acts 2 (near the end): And they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, to the breaking of bread *and to fellowship*.

    At our church, we emphasize fellowship, we even have a coffee break in b/n the worship and sermon. I think it’s one of the best decisions we could have made. The knowledge that you’re not alone and a large number of people are interested in your growth (even if only a very small amount) and seeing the *massive* amount of people in God’s flock.

    I’m no theologian, but I think that fellowship is one of the key things about the faith.

    I’m not saying it’s impossible to be saved w/o fellowship (like romanos’s example) but I think it’s very useful in your growth as a Christian.

    Thanks for listening and keep it up,


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