What Makes Christian Community So Hard?

Community.  It’s all good until you actually try it.  Engaging in Christian community is a biblical requirement, but the idea is hard to implement because it runs counter to at least two powerful cultures.

Photo Credit: iStock photo
Photo Credit: iStock photo

The Idea of Christian Community

Our church small group recently spent an entire semester studying different aspects of Christian community: how God calls us into community with Himself, how He then calls believers to be in community with each other, and how He instructs us to call others into community with Him and His people.

The more we explored Christian community, the more excited we got.  We couldn’t wait to stop talking about community and start being community.  So we did.

We started meeting more frequently.  The e-mail chains started to get longer.  We even started going to a local bowling alley as a way to build relationships with unbelievers outside of the potentially intimidating atmosphere of a church building.

But the newness has worn off and we’re starting to realize that building Christian community is hard work.

Experiencing authentic Christian community isn’t about adding more programs and events.  It’s about confronting our own sin and the culture around us. I see now that we’re combatting two deeply embedded cultures as we attempt to be part of a real community.

Counter-Culture #1: American Culture 

First, we’re battling our American culture.  I’d always heard how individualistic we Westerners are, but I didn’t realize how much this mindset affected me until I tried to be part of a community.

For example, every time I walk into Walmart (which I do as little as possible because there’s always a long and slow-moving line) I have to resist the urge to buy my son one of those little kiddie pools.  There’s a neighborhood swimming pool 30 yards from our back door at home, but sometimes I’d rather have the kiddie pool just so I don’t have to interact with other people.  Not exactly “community-oriented” on my part.

But the dream promoted in our culture includes a white picket fence.  Fences divide us and secure our privacy.  But the Gospel tears down barriers, beginning with the dividing wall of hostility between us and God (Eph. 2:14).  But that’s a difficult truth to live out when we isolate ourselves from people and barricade ourselves in a bubble of selfish convenience.

Counter-Culture #2: Church Culture

But it’s not just our American culture that pushes against biblical community, it’s also our church culture, too.

Again, I’ve often heard that many of us are “consumer Christians”, but the weight of those words didn’t strike me until I started trying to be part of a body of believers who were active seven days a week, not just Sundays.

Genuinely knowing someone requires that you spend significant amounts of time together.  But people have spouses, kids, jobs, homes, and other responsibilities.  The commitment  to meeting often requires thought, planning, and constant communication.  These activities can be exhausting unless everyone participates.

But many Christians aren’t conditioned to serve.  The structure of some churches trains us to receive much but give little.  We attend worship and we receive a sermon.  We attend Sunday School and we receive a lesson.  We attend a typical small group and we receive another lesson.  Seldom are we called upon as individuals, families, and small communities to invest in each other.

Add our own sin to the mix of these challenges and it’s easy to be discouraged.  The old way of shallow relationships and superficial familiarity looks far more appealing.

A Struggle in the Right Direction

But Jesus admonished His followers to take the narrow gate (Mt. 7:13-14).  Convenient community is the wide path and the easy way that leads to destruction.  But the difficulty of Christian community can actually motivate us because we know we’re on the right path.  Sort of like sore muscles after a workout remind you that you’re getting stronger.

Christ Builds Community

What’s more, it is not we who build community, Christ builds community.  As we attempt to love each other in the Lord and welcome unbelievers into a saving relationship with Christ, we are being the church.  And the good news is that God has promised to build His church (Mt. 16:18; Eph. 2:22).

Our strength to continue building deeper, biblical community comes from God’s promise to do it through us (1 Pt. 2:5).  We don’t have to worry about our own ability to love well, it is God who loves us well and works through us to build the beloved community.

So don’t give up on Christian community.  We’re combatting the American culture, church culture, and our own sin. It’s going to be hard.  But Christ is building His church and He’s the cornerstone.  He will not be moved, He will not be shaken and neither will we.

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