I’ve written before that community is the “incubator for discipleship,” and I believe this to be true. I think Scripture attests over and over again to the fact that the Christian life is not meant to be lived or cultivated in solitude. I recently revisited a sort of working definition of biblical community I came up with a few years ago. I thought it might be helpful to pass it along to help you evaluate the community you’re growing in your youth ministry.
For me, it all starts with one question: How do we move a group of students from merely a collection of disconnected people to a true, biblical community?
When I think of biblical community, I automatically turn to Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 4:32-35. Looking at these passages, we get such a great view of the young Jerusalem Church. Through their example, I think we see the amazing potential we have for developing real community.
Desire to Follow Christ
First and foremost, there has to be a desire and a commitment to actually grow as a follower of Christ. As we think about community, this starts with a commitment to grow in knowledge of God, with spiritual growth coming from the application of this knowledge.
Acts 2:42 says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.”
Acts 2:46 says, “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.” (implied teaching)
Acts 4:33 says, “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.”
A desire to grow spiritually must be present in your students as the starting point of growing biblical community. Without it, you’re just hanging out. You’re no different than any other group of people that gather. Ask yourself:
How would you describe the level of desire your students have to follow Christ?
What can you do to help grow this desire?
Fellowship (i.e., hanging out, doing life, etc.) is what it’s all about. If you think about it, it’s kind of both the means and the ends. Fellowship is the heart of community.
Acts 2:42 says the believers were “devoted to fellowship.” Acts 2:46 says the believers met “every day.”
If you look at these passages from Acts, you get the idea that fellowship has two aspects: proximity (literally being together) and frequency (being together often). Fellowship can’t happen unless we’re hanging out, doing life together and doing it frequently. Ask yourself:
Are your gatherings fostering fellowship?
Is it enough to just meet with students formally? Or do you need to find ways to meet informally outside of your programmed meeting times?
Accountability, Transparency, Generosity
While there are probably other characteristics of community, here are three main ones I think we see: transparency, accountability and generosity. Acts 2:44-45 says, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” There is great transparency here! They weren’t concerned about image. They didn’t hesitate to openly bring their needs to the group.
There’s generosity here as well. These believers put others’ needs above their own. James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” Accountability can’t be forced. It grows out of community. I can only overcome my sin nature and talk to you about my sins if we are “one in heart and mind.” We have to have a track record of fellowship. I have to trust you. And you have to have my best interests in mind. Ask yourself:
Does your group value transparency and generosity?
Your students may not have physical needs your group can meet, but they have other needs. Is your group at a place where students can openly bring spiritual and emotional needs to their friends?
Over all of these things flies the banner of compassion. Transparency, accountability and generosity are all contrary to our human nature. The temptation is to sit in judgment of each other when we are transparent or being held accountable. Compassion must rule! I think the best expression of this is Galatians 6:2-3:
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”
If there’s no compassion, there can be no true transparency, accountability or generosity. And ultimately, there can be no fellowship. Ask yourself:
Do you foster an environment of compassion in your group?
Are your students sympathetic toward each others’ unique life situations?
And of course the goal of community is to grow together towards Christ-likeness.