Two families walk into a church foyer on the same Sunday. They use the same door. They arrive minutes apart. By the time their church experience is over, one family says, "That is the friendliest bunch of folks we've ever been around." The other family feels shunned, neglected, overlooked, and unwelcome.

What's the difference? Was it ...

  • expectations?
  • facial expressions?
  • choice of clothing?
  • greeters?
  • décor?
  • personality type?
  • knowing folks there?
  • previous church wounds?

Sometimes we can know. Other times we will never fully understand. Underneath it all, however, there is a truth we all have to face: we are made to be in community. That's the way God hard-wired us from the beginning.

Sure, some of us connect best at a mega-church, or a small church, or a church rich in traditions, or a small church, or even a less formal home gathering. But all of us are made with the need to connect with other people just like we are made with a need to connect with God. Listen to just a few of scriptures that play off of this theme:

The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone ..." (Genesis 2:18).

Two are better than one ... a cord of three strands is not easily broken (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).

Calling the twelve together he [Jesus] sent them out two by two ... (Mark 6:7).

Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart (Acts 2:46).

And these are just a sample.

Bottom line: we were made to be in community.

When asked what the greatest command was, Jesus talked first about loving God. He then quickly added that there was a second command of like importance: love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40). Jesus didn't leave open the option of being in relationship with others if we were going to be in relationship with God. What Jesus implied in this teaching, John makes clear in his writings (1 John especially drives home this point!).

God made us to need to others. God also calls us to live a life of love in relationship with others. In our love for each other, God's love is made complete (1 John 4:12) and we show we are followers of Jesus (John 13:34-35).

Jesus didn't leave open the option!
Opening ourselves up to others, however, is not easy. Many of us have been hurt or have been neglected and betrayed by others in the past. Connecting to others feels dangerous. Being involved with other people is time consuming. Other people can be boring, presumptuous, unkind, or unfair. So many of us shun this call to community because we do not want to risk connecting to others because of past hurts.

At the same time, deep in our souls, we know we need others in our lives. Many who went to the Alaskan frontier in the early days of homesteading were never heard from again. While the winters were harsh, the isolation of being alone for such long periods of time away from community literally drove people mad. We are not meant to be alone!

In the 1950's, as concern for health and hygiene dominated the health news in the U.S., babies were kept in isolation from others. People wore masks if they were going to be in the presence of newborns. Touching babies, especially with bare hands, was discouraged. For a time, bottle-feeding was preferred to breast-feeding. Infant mortality began to rise. A condition called marasmus — or failure to thrive now associated almost exclusively with malnutrition — started going up to levels close to non-developed countries. In the U.S., marasmus was caused by the lack of human touch and close community. We are made to be in relationship with other people!

Living in community, like living in family, is always going to be messy and challenging. We lose control when we are in relationship with others. This is the scary part of it. But, it is precisely when we live the radical ethics of Jesus in community that we experience his presence. As the Lord said, "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them" (Matthew 18:20). There is something about living in the dangerous place of influence, accountability, and forgiveness with flawed people that opens our eyes to Jesus.

I carry around several folders of things I am studying. In one of those folders is a picture of a person. When this person entered the life of our church, this person resisted being connected with any group of any kind. This person simply came to church. So when this person's spouse died unexpectedly, this person was without connections. And despite the fact that others tried to reach out to this person, this person felt neglected and alone, let down by everyone — friends, neighbors, and church. Sometimes we avoid what we most need — community and relationships — only to blame others for not giving it to us when we are under stress, grief, crisis, or catastrophe. We end up hurting ourselves by our avoidance of what we need.

All of us need to find some form of Jesus-based spiritual community. It may not look the same for us. Jesus mentioned two or three gathering together while the Jerusalem church had gatherings in the thousands and small house-to-house gatherings. Yet if Jesus is going to be real to us, if we are going to experience his presence, we are going to have to risk living in real community.

Last Week: Drawing Nearer

Next Week: Radical Community

Life Questions to Ponder and Discuss
I'd love to get a response to some of these questions on my blog

What kind of Jesus-based community are you a part of?Does it include large gatherings, small gatherings, or both?Where have you most clearly experienced the presence of Jesus in community?

Some in our community are not connected to traditional church membership.What kind of Jesus-based community do you share in?Is there something that led you away from a traditional church experience?Where do you experience spiritual community?