“Cultivating community” has become a buzzword (er phrase) within my generation of Jesus followers. We want authentic, transparent, deep, and meaningful relationships with other people. We want to share our lives with each other. We want to share our time, energy, resources, and abilities. We want to create a relational space that serves as a safe haven to be loved, accepted, known, and to know others. All of this sounds great! But if we’re not careful, cultivating community can quickly become an idol that draws us away from Jesus and His mission. How is it possible for something that seems so inherently good and even scriptural to become an idol in our lives?
A few thoughts:
- Jesus and His mission are what bring us together as Jesus followers. This may sound like a master of the obvious statement: following Jesus, embracing His message, and living out His mission are inseparable. The church by definition is a group of people who’ve said “yes” to Jesus, His message, and His mission and are committed to living this out together. Yes, God obviously wants us to focus on our relationship with Him and our relationships with other Jesus followers, and we’ll also get to do that for eternity. The opportunity to seek the lost and serve the least is for a limited time only.
- Authentic scriptural community is the byproduct of living on mission together. I’ve often told people that my closest friends are not necessarily the guys who enjoy back-packing, biking, zombies, or college football (all things I enjoy), but they’re almost always the guys with whom I’ve lived out the mission of Jesus. There’s something about serving shoulder to shoulder with these people that binds our hearts together. This shared mission is what bound a disparate group of apostles together and created deep bonds of partnership between the Apostle Paul and churches he started.
- If we try to maintain or protect our group as a safe haven, we’ll destroy community. This happens in churches and groups of all sizes from the 7000 member mega-church to the organic house church. When we do anything to stifle growth or multiplication (of disciples, groups, churches) the result is stagnation. Every healthy organism grows- if it’s not growing, then it’s dying. We all love the idea of Jesus leaving the ninety-nine to pursue the one, when the one is us. It feels much more risky to recognize that’s exactly the mindset Jesus wants us to adopt as individuals and communities of Jesus followers.
- If our primary focus is meeting our own needs, we’ll probably walk away empty. This goes against the Christian consumerism that runs rampant in our American brand of Christianity. Nowhere in the gospels does Jesus even remotely challenge people to focus on themselves more as a means to solve their neediness. Nowhere in Paul’s epistles to New Testament churches does he tell them that the solution to their issues is rooted in getting what they want out of the local body of believers. Interestingly, denying ourselves is the first step to following Jesus and joining His mission to this world.
One danger of the American church is that we often try to offer people community without cause. Without cause, you’re just another civic organization. You don’t have life transformation… Jesus said, “I have come to the world to seek and to save that which is lost.” The cause of Christ is accomplished by expanding the kingdom of God.
Erwin McManus, The Cause Driven Church
Life’s too short and this age is too evil and the people outside are too broken and hopeless for us to settle for a notion of fellowship as a kind of comfortable togetherness that has no transforming, empowering, explosive effect when we meet.
John Piper, Explosive Fellowship
The most vigorous forms of community are those that come together in the context of a shared ordeal or, communities who define themselves as a group with a mission that lies beyond themselves—thus initiating a risky journey. Over-concern with safety and security, combined with comfort and convenience, have lulled us out of our true calling and purpose. Everyone loves an adventure. Or do we?
Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways blog
- Please pray that this initial Home Fellowship meeting in our home will serve as a launching pad for starting Home Fellowships in other neighborhoods around the city of Burlington.
- Please pray that our identity would be firmly rooted in Jesus and that we’ll remain 100% committed to living out His mission as individuals and a church.
- Also, pray that as we continue to grow, that God would give us great discernment and excitement concerning where and when we need to launch additional Home Fellowships.
2 thoughts on “Can “cultivating community” become idolatry?”
Great thoughts to have in the same pocket as “community on mission” thoughts.
When I probably have children, do I want them to grow up, live at home and only care for me and their mother with all the teaching, money and love that I spend years and years pouring into them?
Nah. I already got that from my parents. I’d consider it to be huge for them to take their upbringing and all I’ve invested into them and go share it with those who haven’t been able to experience anything like that before.
How could I want anything different for my church / fellowship / small group?
Very well put Kevin! This has become an Idol in many communities and churches all over. We should definitely keep this in prayer all the time.