The Bible is clear about the fact that fellowship and community are important.
Each of us is made in the image of a relational God, we are designed for fellowship and community on some level. It’s not healthy to be an isolated Christian. However, for many of us, being a Christian embedded in a spiritually healthy and supportive community is easier said than done. Perhaps it feels like an unrealistic aspiration. I’m not sure where you find yourself as you’re reading this, but let me share a few thoughts about finding and then flourishing in the right community. Where do you even start?
What are we seeking in community?
Are you at a stage in your Christian walk where you feel you have loads of encouragement and wisdom to impart to other Christians? Or are you feeling in a place of need to receive that sort of input from others? Answering this question honestly requires discernment.
I’m able to look back and identify that when I first went to uni, I lacked humility here. I thought I was way more spiritually mature than I actually was, and I threw myself into Christian societies with zeal, but not positive zeal, it was prideful zeal. Jesus warned that “if a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” (Matthew 15:14) I had an ill-intentioned desire to be some sort of spiritual leader, but what I didn’t know was that I had a lot of spiritual growing up to do first.
It’s not my intention to be negative, and I’m certainly not saying that if you’re young you can’t give your peers spiritual support or impart valuable wisdom. After all, Paul urged Timothy “don’t let anyone look down on you because you’re young” (1 Timothy 4:12). My simple intention here is to gently ask you to start by searching your heart and working out your motivations.
Evaluate your spiritual life. Consider what you would most benefit from, and what you feel most called to pour yourself into. Once you have done this as a first step, you should have an idea of what you need in a community.
Biblically Based Community
Although it might seem obvious to some, it’s worth saying we should seek a biblically based community. No matter how friendly and inviting a community may seem, it’s vitally important to ensure that it’s built on solid ground, in other words, that it is grounded in gospel truth.
Jesus warns his followers of certain types of “spiritual leaders” who “come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matt. 7:15) – he tells them to watch out. When you’re looking for a community to be involved in, watch out. How can you do that practically?
A good step would be to find out if the community has some sort of doctrinal basis, or “what we believe” resource (if it doesn’t, I would be wary). The doctrinal basis should entail what the community fundamentally believes. It should give you an idea of the priorities and motivations that drive it. Often this can be found on the community’s website, if not then I’d recommend getting in touch with someone involved in the leadership and asking for it.
Compare it to God’s word, make sure that it doesn’t compromise or twist scripture in any way. I know that’s easier said than done, and perhaps you don’t feel in a position to make that discernment. If that’s the case, I’d recommend getting a trusted more mature Christian brother or sister to assist you with that, but primarily praying about it. Ask God for wisdom to help you assess whether it is a Biblically grounded, solid community to get involved in.
Enjoy the blessing of community
Community and fellowship with other believers is a good gift from God. Being encouraged, challenged, and inspired by other believers is a rich blessing that ought not to be taken for granted.
When you go through challenges and hardships in life, you’ll find your Christian community to be extra precious. Proverbs 17:17 says “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (my emphasis). Ten chapters later in Proverbs, we read that “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” (27:17)
So we learn that we are called to be there for each other in times of adversity, and also that God uses us as tools to “sharpen” each other. That sharpening could be through keeping each other accountable in battles with habitual sin, it could be through reading the word and praying together regularly, it could be through going out of our way to practically support someone we know is going through a hard time. Those are just a few examples, but the point is clear – we should facilitate each other’s growth and spiritual development, not hinder it.
The beauty of community is that it is mutual, in a healthy Christian community, you give and you receive blessing and encouragement to and from fellow brothers and sisters.
I pray that as you read this, you are able to find a healthy, Biblically-grounded Christian community, and enjoy the blessings of sharpening and being sharpened, for God’s glory.