As I discussed my message with Igor before the meeting the only word that we could come up with to describe community in a Ukrainian context was family. Still, this word did not convey exactly what I wanted because families here are often fragmented. As I began my message I could not resist playing with Igor a little. As I preached I used the word “community” anyway. Igor paused while not expecting my change, and two leaders on the front row immediately offered what they thought to be the best word to use.
I stood for a minute to let the lesson of this distracting example sink in. “You see”, I continued, “we cannot even agree on what word to use for this foreign concept.” In fact, it really is a foreign concept because every culture on this planet has a slightly different understanding of community. However, I still believed the concept was both biblical and universal. There must be a simple key to unlock this truth, and there was.
In the very beginning: The Lord God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone…” Gen 2:18
And there we have it. The best way to understand community in any cultural or spiritual context is to understand its purpose and even it’s opposite. It is not good for us to be alone.
About once a year I read the tragic story of some poor soul who was found dead in their home or apartment after a period of many years. This usually happens in Europe or the US, and one person was found to have died 10 years before. No one noticed the mail piling up because there was no mail. Shocked neighbors would later say, “They kept to themselves”, or “I thought that they had moved.”
While some would blame the relatives and neighbors for not being “neighbors” – and this is oftentimes the case - we cannot overlook the fact that some people have simply decided to drop off the map. This can include Christians who see no need for the local church, but when things go wrong in their lives they often become critical of the church for not responding.
Even people who go to church are sometimes just visiting a crowd that has no expression of community throughout the week. Hundreds of people can be standing around you, and you are still alone. I must add here that when I used this example in church that day there were two reactions on the faces of those listening. Younger people had a look of disbelief, but older people had a look of terror. They felt more vulnerable and had the greatest fear of loneliness and abandonment.
- Community, family or whatever you want to call it in your language provides for things that are essential for the human soul: Love, nurturing, protection, encouragement, values, joy, fun and vision.
- Spiritual community provides for the exact same things with the added elements of eternal purpose and equipping for life and service. To live without these is to at best simply exist.
- Spiritual community is also important to the secular community. People would wander in darkness if it were not for the family of God, and they will remain without hope and vision without you.
- Secular community is also important to spiritual community. You will not grow either individually or as a spiritual community if you do not reach and serve those who do not have the hope of eternal life.
Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Prov 27:17
Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart. Eccl 4:9-12