The Essential Community

Feb 24, 2021

The last year we have asked questions about what is essential. We have wondered what is necessary to keep us safe and healthy. We have wrestled with these types of questions primarily with a focus on maintaining our physical health amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in the last several months I have been confronted with my own need to reframe these questions in ways that I didn’t realize early on.

For our spiritual walk as followers of Jesus, what is essential? What is necessary to keep us safe and healthy? What is necessary for us to be resilient in the face of the difficulties of this current moment?

There are lots of ways that I could answer those questions, but there is one piece that I don’t know that we valued properly prior to the pandemic: the communal life of the local church.

Paul Tripp says, “Your walk with God is a community project.” He goes on to talk about how we need “intentionally intrusive, Christ-centered, grace driven, and redemptive” community if we are going to live as faithful, resilient, transformed disciples. Without the presence of other brothers and sisters in Christ who are deeply committed to walking with us it is easy to become discouraged and begin to drift spiritually.

That’s what the writer of Hebrews reminds us of when he says, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:12-13).

These original readers were facing difficult circumstances--the dangers of persecution and death--that made them want to shrink back from their profession of Christ as Lord and the community of believers around them. Not only that, but in the middle of the difficulty they drifted into spiritual apathy that was leading them to drift spiritually, rather than living with a focused, disciplined pursuit of the way of Jesus.

So the author writes them to remind them to cling to Christ, to look to him and endure in the walk of faith. And part of the way they were going to endure is by leaning into the life of fellow believers in their local church body, by investing in and receiving from that “intentionally intrusive, Christ-centered, grace driven, and redemptive” community.

Later in the letter, the author encourages his readers, saying “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23–25).

Did you see the effect of the communal life of the body of Christ? We, together, help one another hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering. We, together, consider one another, and how we might provoke or spur on one another toward love and good deeds. Where do we do that work? At Redeemer Fellowship, we emphasize two contexts: your Community Groups and the Sunday gathering.

Community Group

Your community group is the place where your community is going to be most intentionally intrusive. This is the place where you are most likely to be known, and therefore, most personally ministered to. This is the place where we live together and pursue Jesus together in the “scattered” life and expression of the local church.

It is incredibly easy for us to drift into our weeknight meetings or Zoom calls without much thought, preparation, or commitment. But what might happen if we began to understand the communal nature of our walk with God? What I mean is that if we understand community in light of the exhortations from Hebrews, it is my responsibility to show up seeking how I can encourage other brothers and sisters to hold fast to Christ, how to fight for holiness and not be hardened by their sin, and how they can take another step in active obedience to Christ, i.e. love and good deeds.

Our Community Groups and Discipleship Groups are places where we study the Word, confess sin, and minister to one another in prayer. If we are going to remain resilient and faithful as disciples of Jesus, these are essential activities.

Sunday Gathering

But the writer of Hebrews points us to something else that is critical for the stability and resiliency of our faith: the worship gathering of the saints. The church, the “ekklesia,” is the gathering of the people of God who gather as a visible expression of his presence and saving work in the world. 

As we gather together to sing the songs, prayer the prayers, hear the Word, and participate in the sacraments together, those practices reshape and reorient our loves. Throughout the week, we are invited to set our affections and pursuits on other things that draw us away from God. But when we gather, we experience the presence of God together in ways that reminds us of transcendent reality that draws our eyes and hearts away from the transient realities of our world.

When we gather, we are reminded that we are not islands to ourselves. We are members of the body of Christ, of the household of God. We are not alone. We are not isolated. We are vitally connected and dependent on one another.

When we gather, we are reminded, as Dr. Emmanuel Katangole says, that “the blood of the Eucharist is thicker than the blood of tribalism.” There is a beauty and a redemptive power in Christ that unites us across all of the lines by which we would divide ourselves. In the gathering, we are reminded of our common salvation, our shared grace, our empowerment by one Spirit, our share in one baptism, our common hope in the one crucified and resurrected Christ, and our shared adoption as sons and daughters of the living God.

When we gather, we hear and are shaped together under the proclamation of the Word. Under that preaching we are reminded of our dependence on his Word to guide our life as kingdom citizens, to reveal our sinfulness, and to point us again to the grace of God.

These experiences and reminders are critical for us as we seek to live as faithful, resilient disciples. That’s why the writer of Hebrews tells us to not neglect meeting together!

But what if I can’t meet?

For various reasons, some folks in our body haven’t been able to gather in person, and may not be able to for some time more. So to talk about gathering and being with other believers feels far away. How can you engage?

In Psalm 84, we hear a pilgrim song that encourages us saying, “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.” These people who are far from the dwelling place of God, the gathering of his people, carved out pathways in their hearts with longing for the presence of God. If you can’t gather, the temptation can be to disengage because virtual means aren’t the same. 

When the lockdown started I remember reading that psalm and praying that God would ready my heart to gather again with his people whenever the day would come again. I couldn’t be there, but my heart was there which reminded me to pray for and reach out to folks. Who might God be bringing to mind for you to pray for and encourage? 

AND, for those who know others who can’t meet, what if we began visiting them so that they can see our faces and feel the warmth of our presence and prayers, even from a distance? Early in the lockdown I had a dear sister drop by my house just pray for our family from my yard. What if we got creative and sought for ways to bless, encourage, and pray for one another in ways that remind us that even while we are absent from one another, we are still connected as a family.

We don’t know when things will be fully back to normal. But, we have been given the gift of our communal life together to help us remain stable in our confession of Christ and encouraged in our pursuit of him. 

God has designed the church with an inescapable interdependence on one another. The communal life is essential to your walk with Jesus. Christian community is necessary to keep you safe and healthy spiritually. Our life together with God is a community project.

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We exist to cultivate communities of transformed disciples who live for the glory of God and the good of the city.

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