Without a doubt, we were created for relationship. While as Christians we are all part of one body, with Christ as the head, we can often feel disconnected from our Christian family, or only connected superficially (which can be worse!). Our fast paced Western culture doesn’t exactly nurture intentional community. We are told to focus inward and forward, on our own lives and paths of success. For many of us, our once-a-week “Christian” gathering takes place in a large-group atmosphere, which doesn’t always allow us to connect past the surface level. Here are a few tips to press past the surface, and start living more intentionally with the community God has given you.
“Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27)
Start Where You Are
Our Christian communities each look very different -- there’s the campus student group, the mega-church, small one-room chapel, high school bible study, small group, church youth group, prayer and accountability groups, and many more variations! Whether you have it all, or have yet to find a part of the local body to plug into, start where you are.
For those of us who are already part of a group, we can start by engaging more intentionally within it. Getting real (see previous points), serving and volunteering, and staying consistently committed can go a long way to develop intentional, Christ-centered relationships.
For those of us who aren’t yet part of any group, we can start by seeking out a local church to connect with. In the meantime, try engaging any other pre-existing Christian friendships you may have. This could mean messaging that friend (or leader) from camp you haven’t talked to for a while, or keeping in touch with the campus chaplain, or intentionally engaging in more Jesus-centered conversations with your spouse.
"Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!" - (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)
The Three, The Twelve, The Hundreds
During Jesus’ time in ministry, he created a very intentional community. After all, he had many people following him wherever he went -- eating, sleeping, and travelling together. Although God isn’t likely calling us to drop everything and cohabitate with our Christian family (or better, follow our pastor around 24 hours of the day!), we can learn a great deal from the model of community Jesus applied.
“One day soon afterward, Jesus went up on a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night. At daybreak he called together all of his disciples and chose twelve of them to be apostles.” – (Luke 6:12-13)
Everywhere Jesus went, he had hundreds (often thousands) gathered. From among these, he selected twelve followers to connect with on a deeper level. From among those twelve disciples, Jesus spent the most time with Peter, James and John. I think it’s safe to assume that Jesus connected the most intimately with his three, shared many great joys and prayers with his twelve, and enjoyed times of corporate worship and celebration with his hundreds.
What can we learn from this? While it’s unrealistic to expect a large number of intimate, deep Christian relationships in our lives, intentional community takes time, effort, and persistence to develop. By identifying who our hundreds (church community), twelve (small group), and three (closest brothers and sisters, spouse) are, we can become more intentional about the time we spend with them.
Developing an intentional community helps us take our Christian walk from a Sunday thing to an every-day thing, where we live in a constant awareness ) of God and His purpose for our lives. Living in that awareness is usually messy. Since we aren’t all perfect, polished people, it’s unrealistic to expect a perfect, polished community. By acknowledging this to ourselves, we can become more comfortable with sharing this real-life experience with our Christian brothers and sisters.
Practically speaking, your closest “three” are a great place to start getting real with others. After developing trust with each other, reach out often to confess sin, seek counsel, share testimonies, and pray together.
“Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” -(Galatians 6:2)
If you aren’t sure how to do this, try using some of the following conversation starters when connecting with your community:
What are the greatest joys and challenges in your life right now?
Where are you at with God? & What steps are you taking to move forward in your walk with Him?
At what point in your life did you first turn to God? When did you receive salvation?
What are the greatest areas of your life you could use support and/or prayer?
What parts of the Bible encourage you the most and why?
Take these conversations to the next level by continuing to pray for your friend and what you discussed, and reach out to follow up on how things are going.
My last practical tip for building an intentional Christian community is to
s l o w . . . d o w n.
People and relationships take time to develop, and we can sometimes become impatient to see the fruit of our labor. It’s okay! It can take a year or more of being consistently intentional before we really start to feel connected and engaged. Be patient. God sees you where you are, and He is helping you.
If we imagine a strong Christian community as a tree, with many branches all connected to one trunk or vine (Jesus), that tree needs strong deep roots before it can reach it’s potential. Much of the tree’s growth takes place where we can’t see… but if we continue to trust the Lord to grow it, and we are faithful to stay connected to the vine, we will eventually see a vibrantly connected tree, full of fruit! Be encouraged: God desires His children to connect even more than we do, and He is at work to make it happen.
“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” - (Romans 15:5-7)