• Our hope-filled future is bound up in sharing the story of Jesus, in discipling others, in bringing those disciples together into communities of believers, and in developing and releasing those believers to create other communities... till Jesus the King comes again!


This whole issue of community, what it is and what it involves, touched a chord in many.  A number of you posted comments on this blog while others wrote directly to me to share their thoughts. These are the questions many of us are asking ourselves.   In his classic work, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer described community in this way: “…without Christ we would not know other Christians around us; nor could we approach them. The way to them is blocked by our own ‘I’. Christ opened up the way to God and to one another. Now Christians can live with each other in peace; they can love and serve one another; they can become one.”  Other centeredness, then, characterizes community in its essence as it reflects the One who brought us into community with one another through His sacrifice.

Yet, each time we try to describe or further define community, we find ourselves bumping up against the very values and ethos that we know should characterize our life together, but which we struggle to live out.  We know that community is much more than simply spending time with one another, and we long to experience true community with others, with those who are in ministry together with us. 

What might some of those descriptors be that would characterize true community for us?  Would the list at least include: love, communication, trust, accountability or self-awareness?  Certainly there are others, but the hard part comes when we try to more fully describe what we mean and how it would look for our community to live this way.  Take self-awareness, for example.  Self-awareness is the capacity to see one’s own need for the Gospel and for further growth in relation to God, self and other team members.  Someone who is self-aware understands how others are “receiving” or experiencing them.  He/she seeks the insight and help of others in his/her community to gain this understanding and determine further ways to grow in community.   To get even more pratical about self-awareness, why not ask two or three people in your community this question: if you could change one thing about me, what would it be?

8 Responses

  1. Let me first say that I was “converted” to a new understanding of community while living among the Yali, and I have written about this elsewhere (2x in EMQ).

    However, recently I read Alan Hirsch’s “The Forgotten Ways” in which he has a significant chapter on “communitas” which he distinguishes from “community”. I think if westerner Christians can grasp that, it will go a long way to helping develop the nature of ‘community’ we long for and desire to see in CP. (Note, I identify “western” with individualism and the individualistic mindset which are the antithesis of Christ-centered and Christ-empowered community.

    It is interesting that Eph 4 (to which others have referred in their postings) begins with the powerful 7-fold statement about unity based on the unity of the Trinity and the redemptive ministry of Father, Son and Spirit: ONE body; ONE Spirit; ONE hope; ONE Lord; ONE baptism; ONE faith; ONE God and Father

    Community–biblical community–like all real community must be centered our Lord and on our common story and over-riding purpose: This is the story of redemption which is not just salvation from sin; but salvation into communion with God, and also salvation towards our final redemption when Jesus comes again.

    Biblical community calls us to corporate commitment to “walk worthy” of our calling; that is a corporate lifestyle with self-sacrificing obedience to Christ; self-effacing mutual service and accountabilty; and costly obedience to our calling to be Christ’s witnesses in the world.

    Biblical community is being bound together in a covenant relationship with God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), and therefore bound and committed to a faithful relationship with each other. It is marked by a unity which does not stifle variety and individuality (as opposed to individualism) which are gifts to the body.

    More could be said, but I will leave it at that for this posting!

    • The book, Forgotten Ways, is sitting on my shelf, and once John made reference to it, I copied the chapter in question and took it to read on my recent plane flight. Though I’m not ready to exchange the word “community” for “communitas”, I found Hirsch’s chapter stimulating as always. One of the struggles we have in French is that there is no word for “community” as we often use it in the English language. There is a word, “communaute”, but it has a negative overtone. So, how do we talk about community in our context? How do we frame the meaning of a word for which there is no one equivalent translation. I think Hirsch pushes us in our thinking to consider the multi-faceted sense of community.

      Here are just a few insights I pulled out. First, true community turns our whole notion of service on its head: It’s “me for the community and the community for the world” rather than a selfish “the community for me.” (page 220) The notion of community is always directed outwards towards others. Second, community is linked inseparably to God’s larger purpose of “following Jesus into his mission in the world.” (231) It is not a place for people to “recuperate form an overy busy, consumerist lifestyle,” but a place we find ourselves by investing ourselves in others. Finally, it’s about a journey together. So many people seem to be on this journey alone, but the nature of Christianity is that we as a community journey together into God’s mission.

      Thanks for reminding of this book, John. Hirsch’s comments about mission being the organizing principle of the church/community reminds me of talks given by Harvie Conn.

  2. Let me just say the question David posts here for us to use is a good one. We were challenged to do this as ADs, and when I did I found out some important insights about other people’s perceptions of me. It helped me own self-awareness. So I encourage you to take up the challenge!


  3. Living this out has been a challenge. Like in Marriage, when you invite someone in to see you with your mask off and you see others without theirs on, thats when we have to decide if we are going to enter into true community or not. It requires complete denial of ourselves, our rights, those things we pride ourselves on to give us a sense of superiority over others, and so much more. Teaching others to do this cross-culturally is even more challenging, as I am not aware of all the challenges to community that exist for them. Like John points out, though, it seems to come easier and quicker to group oriented cultures. In some of our Bible studies, we can get away with asking some overly personal questions by western standards, and people will answer them with the result that their openness spreads to others and community begins to form. Asking those same questions in California would not get the same results.

  4. That’s a great question. I will ask this question of three people. Anybody want to know what I find out? And by the way, David, this conversation is fun and I really enjoy reading the various feedback.

    My experience is this: Those who most need to ask that question are those least likely to ask it.

    [Personally, I’ve found that when I balk at an exercise like this, or choose to casually ignore it – or if I carefully think through who I would/should ask based on what they might say – I am saying something about myself in community, and as a team member, that speaks louder than words. If I hesitate, I consider it a “tell” that something in my agenda/heart is out of line.]

    That said, in an “office/corporate” context, this question isn’t very practical/doable. For instance, if I were to ask that question directly – face-to-face – to someone I am responsible to manage; I wouldn’t expect a full, complete answer. How could they? It’s too threatening. It’s too risky.

    Unfortunately, it is the call of the Christian brother/sister to confront one another; especially in cases were those who won’t ask the question don’t.

    We are not “others-centered” when we fail to confront our brother/sister with a true concern for their good and the glory of God. But this gets very complicated for those of us who work in an office setting or within an agency hierarchy.

    And it is particularly dangerous for those in leadership, as they are rendered “unapproachable” as those responsible to critique, manage and direct. [Pastors, leaders and missionaries who don’t have this feedback find themselves trapped in their own self-sense, a dangerous place to be as a Christian.]

    This is my follow-up question to myself: How can I cultivate/resource an environment in which my team can lovingly confront me, within this structure of subordination (which is necessary as an agency), out of deep concern (done for the benefit of the other/others) in order to help me make those changes that God requires, that will further World Team in advancing His kingdom objectives?

    All within the context of this question: How can our mutual subordination to Christ and his Kingdom Purposes (focused on the heart) dominate our individual, structural, functional subordination to each other?

  5. During last Christmas vacation I asked my wife, Janet and my son, David, what they would like to see changed about me.
    Janet said that she wanted me to listen to what she intended to say instead of analyzing her words.
    David said that he wanted me to be more transparent and to share my personal struggles with him.
    I have incorporated both of these requests into my personal development plan for 2010 and I hope that when I ask for a progress report at the end of the year, that they will see some degree of progress.

  6. David raises a challenge similar to one we face in Indonesia: “community” as a term does not translate easily. Of course, the Greek word we go back to is “koinonia” which has become common in English usage too; but what does it mean?

    Among other things it refers to a common life, to fellow-ship and comerade-ship (I put the hyphens in to give pause for thought about those words). It also means partnership and participation and has connotations of interdependence. In Bonhoeffer’s words it is “life together”.

    But uniquely, christian community/fellowship is about our common life in Christ, not merely centred on Christ, although it is that too. Because it is centered in Christ, our common life together and in society must be characterized by Christlikeness–taking particularly the model or paradigm of his example in Philippians 2.

    But that Philippian paradigm is also the paradigm for “heavenly citizenship” which is not a life abstracted from the world into the spiritual realm; but a life lived together day-by-day in the world in light of the spiritual reality.

    The common life is a life of commitment to Christ and therefore to each other. It is also a life centered on the gospel and committed to the world. Whether in France or in Papua, that is the nub of the matter.

    I think that what Hirsch seeks to capture when he adopts the anthroplogical term “communitas” (based on the bonds created in a rite of passage) is that kind of community which arises when people suffer together for a common cause and with common loyalty. They become totally committed to the cause and each other who is similarly committed, so that nothing will stop them from promoting it or from inviting others to participate in it. If you rally to the cause you are committed not only to the cause but to the leader and to your fellows.

    I haven’t time to expand on this.

    • This is the kind of grappling with terms that I was hoping would occur. The notion that community would include laboring together, being committed to a common cause, leaders and one another expands our concept beyond what we currently might think about community. I appreciated the words you wrote: “[It] is that kind of community which arises when people suffer together for a common cause and with common loyalty. They become totally committed to the cause and each other who is similarly committed, so that nothing will stop them from promoting it or from inviting others to participate in it. If you rally to the cause you are committed not only to the cause but to the leader and to your fellows.” Thanks John!

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