Community: God's design for living and learning
We are very used to reading the stories about Jesus in the gospels but I wonder if we are so familiar with them that we don’t notice how tough his life was? Not just at the end, but for the three years of his ministry? He didn’t have a home, but travelled around the country on foot, not knowing where he’d sleep most nights. He was constantly criticised, even in his own home town. His cousin was brutally murdered. He lived with the knowledge that the authorities were fitting him up. As his popularity increased, he found it difficult to get rest or peace. How did he get through all that? Jesus’s secret was – his community.
We are wired for community. We naturally gravitate towards other people; we feel the absence of friends keenly; we know that being plugged into a supportive community has massive benefits for both our mental and our physical health and there are also a whole host of practical benefits too.
Bible: snapshots of Jesus' life in community
This week, the second in our Lent series ‘Journeying with Jesus’, we are looking at Jesus and his community and wondering what that might teach us today.
To help set the scene why not share passages from the gospels which give snapshots into different parts of Jesus’ life with his community? For example:
- The cost of being a disciple – Luke 9:57-62
- Jesus calling his disciples – Matthew 4:18-22; 9:9-13; John 1:43-51
- Transfiguration – Matthew 17:1-13
- Jesus walking on water – Matthew 14:22-36
- Peter chooses to stay - John 6:60-71
God designed us to be social beings, operating best in community. His first observation about Adam was that ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him’ (Genesis 2:18). This wasn’t just about love or reproduction – it was because we struggle on our own. Having a community around us makes us stronger, more flexible and a load more resilient. It gives us knowledgeable and inspirational people who can share with us stuff they know that we don’t or inspire us to new things. Community means people who can help each other with practical stuff such as DIY or babysitting or homework. And our community can be our safe place, where we know that we are loved, free to laugh and weep, and where we encourage and are encouraged.
When he shaped the nation of Israel, God designed it to be so that the family unit wasn’t alone. It was surrounded and supported by the the clan or extended family, which in turn sat within the tribe. It’s much as the traditional African proverb: ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. Life generally is not meant to be done alone - and how much more so parenting!
God’s plan for children’s discipleship today is exactly the same. It is to be centred in the home, but supported by the modern equivalent of the clan - extended family and church friends.
‘We want our children to connect with church because it is a place of belonging, a home away from home. Church is the gift of a family of God who will love and encourage our children. It is a place for them to explore God, be needed by others and be taken care of. It is a community who will support and inspire our children to know and love God, and help them grow in connection with him.’
Rachel Turner, Parenting Children for a Life of Faith, Omnibus edition
Things to think about:
- What was Jesus’ community like? How did people join it? Where can you see its importance in the gospels?
- Who is your community? Who adds to your family, bringing knowledge, help and support?
- You might want to explore the findings of the Sticky Faith team which undertook a six year research project asking what relationships and practices can encourage a life long faith in teens. They suggest that involvement in a multigenerational church and the presence of five significant adults in a teen’s life can have a real impact on the development of their faith.
Here are some ideas for sparking conversations about community with your family:
- Create windows into your life by sharing stories of people who’ve been community to you – maybe someone who walked alongside you for a season, or who helped with things. Wonder who those people are for you or your children today?
- Share stories from the Bible that have something to say about community: the story of Nehemiah, particularly chapters 3 and 4; Priscilla and Aquila’s generosity in inviting a newcomer to be part of their community (Acts 18:18-28); Solomon’s explanation of the importance of community (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12); Paul’s advice for living well in community (Romans 12:9-21).
- Research Jesus’ community - the people who stuck with him. Who were they? As well as the twelve disciples there were lots of others, for example Mark 15:43, John 19:38 and Luke 8:2-3.
- With your child, talk about Sticky Faith’s significant adults. Which adults do they feel connected to at church? Who might they like to be connected to? How could you facilitate that? Maybe play Connect Four as you chat!
- Share that great old song by Bill Withers, ‘We all need someone to lean on’. Who do you lean on? Who leans on you? What might stop you leaning on someone?
- Although we read a lot about the disciples, we don’t really know how they spent their ordinary days with Jesus. Wonder together about what they were doing the rest of the time.
- Share this clip from 'Finding Nemo'. What does it say about community?
- Discover the story of Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian pastor who spend years in solitary confinement. What helped him survive such isolation?