Jan Johnson
Jan Johnson

WisBits Archive

May 2006

Community:  Two People Looking Forward

I’ve been thinking about biblical “community” ever since I wrote the Spiritual Disciplines Bible Study: Community & Submission and began teaching about it in retreats on spiritual disciplines. Meanwhile, some experiences have caused me to question typical American ideas about friendship. So this and the next two wisbits will be about community as a spiritual practice.

May wisbit: major ideas about what community is

June wisbit: a specific aspect of community that is not often talked about

July wisbit: specific ideas of what community is not, although they are accepted and even promoted inside and outside the Christian community

We’re schizophrenic about community. Sometimes we think we desperately need it based on cultural isolation—living far from extended family and not knowing our next-door neighbors. Truly, some people go to church just to find friends. Other times we’ve had it with people. I meet many former church-goers who couldn’t stand the bickering and left. Going it alone with God sounds good to them.

So deciding if we like or want community isn’t a good idea. Besides, God thinks it’s a good idea. Community here on earth mirrors the community of the Trinity—a “sweet society of love”
[1] (Renovation of the Heart, p. 184). Three beings loving and giving to each other, not competing. It has taken me several years to accept our “reciprocal rootedness in others,”[2] but studying 1 Corinthians 12 and other passages has persuaded me it’s true. I can’t say to anyone (much less to a fellow disciple), “I don’t need you.” Really. I may not know I need that person, but I do. And if I’m attentive, God will show me just how much as someone I can’t stand comes along and gives me just the help I need.

This way, community doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? Sometimes it is; other times, it’s not. Maybe we’ve confused friendship love with erotic love. In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis talks about how in phileo (friendship love) friends don’t gaze at each other as lovers do; they stand side by side and look forward at a common interest. Friends don’t even face each other, but look at something in common and ask, “Do you see what I see? You do, don’t you”?
[3] And so our focus is not to be if I like you and enjoy you, but on that thing beyond us that we both find intriguing. For disciples of Jesus, that would be God and the kingdom of God.

In light of this, community is never a goal in itself. The Bruderhof (one of the best known Amish-like communities that has studied these things for years) tell us, “Our goal is not community. If community becomes the goal, then things fall apart quickly. Our goal is to give glory to Christ.”[4]

So how then is community best realized? Not by trying to have community, but by practicing other disciplines--service, confession, study, guidance, celebration, worship. Think of the bonding that occurs on a missions trip (sometimes with bumps!). I have bonded with many people I’ve served alongside at the Samaritan Center. We’ve wept over our clients who are homeless; we’ve all laughed a lot too (1 Cor. 12:26). To confess to someone is to bind yourself to them. Think of how devoted you are to those who have guided you. And consider how difficult it is to serve communion without either crying or bursting with joy as you offer bread and say, “Terry, this is the body of Christ given for you.”

Consider having a conversation with God about community: Have you considered that you need it? Have you sought it for its own sake? Have you been picky about who it might consist of? Please be open to what God says to you.

{Spiritual Disciplines Bible Study: Community & Submission}

Grace and peace,
Jan Johnson

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[1] Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart, p. 184.
[2] Renovation of the Heart, p. 179
[3] C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves (NY: Harcourt, 1960). p. 65-66.
[4] Peter Larson, “Inside the Bruderhof” Prism 11-12/03, p. 25.

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