What is community? Living in a community is much like living in a neighbourhood, characterised by neighbours and people you recognise. Community may be something you join - such as an art class or running group. One might even accept a new job and consider themselves as a part of a new work community. But living in or joining a community and being in community can be very different.
Living in a community or being a part of a community can be passive - I can live in a community without much more connection beyond driving past a neighbour and recognising them. In the same way, I can be a part of the ‘mountain bike community’ without knowing any other rider. Being in community takes action. In this way, community can either be a noun (identifies a thing) or a verb (an action).
Throughout scripture we see examples of community as an action. Jesus had community around him. He had his twelve disciples, family, those who looked after him and the disciples along their travels and he was surrounded by people in the neighbourhoods he visited. But, Jesus did not fall into a trap of having things in common with others and leaving it at that. In Matthew 4:18-20 we read: “As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.” Imagine the scene playing out instead as Jesus greeting his fellow Galileans, Simon and Andrew, and then walking ahead, carrying on with his day. Jesus didn’t do this, he invited the men to follow him and pursued building relationships with them. Adding to this, imagine he confined his invite to these two men - how strange to think of referring to “Jesus and the two disciples”. No, in the following verses Jesus goes on to invite James and John to follow him too, along with growing the disciples in number. Jesus was intentional about asking the men to follow him. The disciples also had to be intentional in their response to Jesus. They did not join a community to sit around comparing what they had in common. They had to live in community by acting out community with each other and those around them, as they followed Jesus.
Adding to this example, I would like us to consider community among the Israelites during the time of Moses. In Exodus, Moses was getting to a point where he was worn out. Moses’s father-in-law encourages him to delegate roles to the men in his community with the encouragement that this delegation will make the load lighter for Moses because they will share the load with him (Exodus 18:17-23). We see another example in Numbers: God said to Moses, “Gather together seventy men from among the leaders of Israel, men whom you know to be respected and responsible. Take them to the Tent of Meeting. I’ll meet you there. I’ll come down and speak with you. I’ll take some of the Spirit that is on you and place it on them; they’ll then be able to take some of the load of this people—you won’t have to carry the whole thing alone. Numbers 11:16-17 (MSG).
While I know this is a great blueprint for leadership and delegation within church, it is also a great example of community in action. Moses had been living in a community among hundreds of thousands of people but he was wearing himself out carrying the burden alone - it took wise counsel from his father-in-law and strategy from God to position himself in a way which would invite the people around him to take part in addressing the issues of the people. He had to move from living in a community to putting community into action. In the same way Jesus invited the disciples to walk with him, Moses had to invite members of the community to come alongside him. In the same way the disciples had to accept the call, the men Moses chose to help him, also had to respond. Community is about action.
How can we be better at making community about action? It is simple, act with community in mind. How can we do this?
Delegation helps people to see opportunities to get involved where they may not have been aware there is a need or may have been too shy to volunteer. Delegation may be practical (delegating the task of helping to lay out cups for a church meeting) or it could be relational (asking someone to drop off a care package or asking someone to step out and connect with a person). Delegation isn’t about bossiness or being commanding - it is an invitation for others to step into more of what God has for them. Done right, it will bear fruit and help others to grow.
Don’t keep your community small. Invite people to your church, connect group, events, coffee dates and socials so that they can join your community.
Whether you are responding to a request or volunteering of your own accord, be intentional about building relationships, loving others and getting involved. Make an effort to see where you can step in.
In John 15:12-13, Jesus tells us to love each other deeply - as much as He loves us and to show love which sacrifices all. Community in action takes sacrifice. It isn’t always convenient to offer to pick someone up, to drop off food for someone going through a difficult time or to attend a get-together that isn’t close to your home but these actions show others that being in community with others is active and personal.
So friends, don’t wait until tomorrow - ask the Lord what you can do today and put community into action.
Simone Allen is a wife to Michael Allen and a high-school history teacher. She is a member and deacon at Venture Church and serves in the Connect Group and Serving Team ministries.