“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” —Helen Keller
Have you ever wondered why Jesus gathered his followers into a learning, serving, worshipping community? Didn’t Jesus know how difficult people are to get along with and how unappealing church communities would be, with all the deeply flawed and highly opinionated people out there? Didn’t he know that he would have been much more successful preaching a more private type of religion, something along the lines of, “Go out into nature and worship God. Be nice to people should they cross your path. The end.” Instead, Jesus pulled together a mishmash of followers and set about trying to make them fishers of people and the embodiment of his kingdom reign.
The early church struggled mightily with this same challenge: forming a Christ-centered community of people out of Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, men and women, educated and uneducated. This unifying task turned out to be very difficult indeed. How much easier if those early missionaries had focused on converting people to a personal relationship with Jesus and left the whole corporate, communal thing out of it.
So why community? What did Jesus see in community? Why, for 2000 years, have Christians insisted on gathering together, breaking bread together, serving together, bearing witness together, suffering together, worshiping together, sharing together? Here are two fundamental ideas.
First, we humans are intrinsically wired for community. Children can’t survive long on their own. Neither can the sick, the aged, or the physically challenged. Even the “strong” find they don’t like living in total isolation. Jesus’ call to community is simply his acknowledgement that God has created us as social beings. Life is better together, despite the inevitable conflicts we experience with one other. There is an undeniable strength in community.
Second, Jesus understood that in order for us to grow more like him, we have to live in environments that would cause us to be less self-centered and more caring toward others. Community is perfect for revealing to us how often we demand our own way instead of yielding to the preferences of others, how often we want to keep for ourselves rather than share with others, how often we focus on our own interests rather than being considerate of others. Marriage is one highly focused example of a community that reveals our self-centered flaws. We need community because we’ll never grow up into the godly people Jesus wants us to be if the only person we ever have to care for is ourselves.
Years ago, there was a person in our small group who was deeply annoying to me. This person pressed all my buttons and I sometimes wondered why God sent that person to our group. One day I realized that this person was in our group because I needed to mature more, to become more generous-hearted, and to become less “annoyable.” Over time, this person became a true friend and respected fellow Christian.
There are more answers to the question, “Why community?” But these two, perhaps, will provide a helpful reminder of why we embrace the challenging but meaningful practice of being a community of faith together.