What are the benefits received from genuine Christian community? All of the following characteristics of Christian community can morph into something beautiful or destructive depending on the health of the group, but at some level, every true Christian community is attractive because of these characteristics and more:
A welcoming people.
Although sinful and flawed and sometimes belligerent, Christian community is generally very welcoming and friendly to all types of people. I remember with fondness how welcomed I was to attend a community of Christians in my high school days. These were fun people who made me, a self-conscious introvert, feel a part of a new found family. The pats on the back, the laughs, and the shared experiences were intoxicating. Even when I was picked up by the largest senior in the bunch and thrown into a pool in winter (he went with me!) it was done from a heart of camaraderie and I knew it. It was a place and a people with whom I wanted to be associated.
A people with whom you can be honest.
A growing and healthy Christian community is one where you can learn to be vulnerable without being ostracized, ridiculed, marginalized, or shamed. Growing Christians are willing to share their struggles and be mutually encouraging to one another. They pray for you and ask how you are doing. This, too, is very attractive since all people have shared sin experiences and are seeking for relief and hope.
A people who will pursue you.
It’s nice to be pursued and Christian community is good at pursuing. It’s not often that people initiate a relationship to any deep degree. Christians can be really good at including people who are generally on the outskirts in other circles. Who doesn’t want people genuinely pursuing us for relationship?
A people who try hard to exhibit mercy and justice.
Christian community desires and pursues the things that God desires in His people. When you are wronged, Christian community will pray with and for you and seek to come alongside and extend mercy. It is very nice to know that we have people who care enough to show concern and be of help.
A people of shared experience.
When Christian community gathers, all of the above characteristics form a shared experience. Much like an inside joke, which brings those “in the know” to tears with laughter, Christian community provides a joy that is shared by the group. Time together builds up experiences through shared stories, laughter, tears, struggles, service, and prayer. That community package is sweet to behold.
But often Christian community becomes a savior without the person ever having known the Savior. Because Christian community offers sweet rewards, a person can mistake the benefits of the community over the benefits of Christ Himself. This is a dangerous prospect. When the community fails to deliver, what then? Often, people leave the community, typically blaming the community for not having delivered their perceived needs and desires. So then, who is their ultimate savior? What are they idolizing? An idol is anything more fundamental than God to your happiness, meaning in life, and identity. If Christian community, or the characteristics of Christian community, become our fundamental hope, then that community has become an idol . . . a Jesus replacement.
Think, rather, on this . . .
The reason that the Christian community can be truly welcoming is because their Savior welcomed them into a relationship where they could come in all of their brokenness to find the healing of a heart and new life. They have trusted in Him and find Him their greatest desire.
The reason the Christian community can be honest and vulnerable is because they have nothing to lose from confessing their sin and need, and nothing to gain from some sort of reward. They already have it firmly given in pardon for sin and the alien righteousness (perfection) of Christ bestowed on them. To be vulnerable for the sake of being vulnerable may ease some tension in a person’s conscience, but it cannot ultimately heal and produce lasting change in their hearts. Only Jesus can do that.
The reason Christian community pursues people is because they know they have been pursued by Christ. Their hearts overflow with the good news that they are pardoned for their sin and they want others to experienced the new heart that they have experienced. To look to community to pursue us pales in comparison and leaves us wanting as compared to God pursuing us and loving us from now through eternity.
The reason Christian community pursues mercy and justice is because God is merciful and just and is producing in them His character. To look for it in the community rather than in God through Christ, is less than true mercy and justice and will falter and fail.
The reason Christian community has such rich shared experience is because all of their joys and sufferings are seen only through God, who designs all of our experiences for their good and not their ill. If sought only within community, we will be disappointed when the community fails to exist for our expectations of rich experience. Christ is to be our vital hope.
Are we attracted to Christ’s people and what they have to offer, or are we ultimately attracted to Christ? Does Christian community give us life, or does Jesus? If we are looking to the Christian community to provide only what Jesus ultimately provides, we will leave the community when it fails to deliver. The good news of Jesus begs us to look to Him alone for our identity and salvation.