Community of all Kinds
As we continue to reflect on our core values sermon series, throughout this week our church has been highlighting the need to be in fellowship and community with one another. This article will be no exception, but my hope is to consider community from a different angle and challenge us as a church to consider the full extent of our need for fellowship and community.
In the quietness of my mind, when I think theologically about community, fellowship, and being with other Christians, my mind always trends to some of the same places. These three Scripture passages are always among them:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaCommching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Nehemiah 8:1-3; 5-6; 9:
And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law…And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground…And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law.
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Each one of these sections of Scripture highlights the best type of Christian fellowship: praising God, weeping before the read words of God, being generous with one another as there was need, as well as having intimate transparency between them as they corporately grew together. All of this leads to the promised reality of Revelation 7 above, where the fully realized multitude of the church, including every ethnicity and every generation, stands confidently before God praising Him. I got chills just thinking about it, envisioning this reality as I type. We should be excited for this!
But this is not easy for everyone. While the above Scriptures represent the best of humanity in the most intimate fellowship with God and one another, we do not always exist in that place. Human life has been damaged because of sin. Because sin exists, there are struggles, disappointments, fears, and failures. These hard realities color the parts of our lives that we long to see healed and resolved in our Revelation 7 future. But in the here and now, we often feel and think of ourselves as being alone and isolated. This is not the way it should be.
Theologically, we know that the church should be a place of transparency and openness for people to find hope, healing, and help for life struggles. Unfortunately, sin taints even that, and it too often results in a desire to put on a false-front, conveying to others that we have it all together when, in fact, many are in deep distress. The transparent community described in Acts 2 then becomes more of a desire that is unable to be achieved for some. Instead, people find themselves with a tremendous void of something the Bible characterizes as essential to being a Christian, and missing out on the closest thing we have to heaven now, in the local church. The significant and negative effect on our souls is deep.
Sadly, there are physiological and psychological effects as well. Dr. Emma Seppala wrote of this:
[Studies show] that lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure…decline in social connectedness may explain reported increases in loneliness, isolation, and alienation and may be why studies are finding that loneliness represents one of the leading reasons people seek psychological counseling. Those who are not socially connected are more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, antisocial behavior, and even suicidal behaviors, which tend to further increase their isolation. Most poignantly, a landmark survey showed that lack of social connectedness predicts vulnerability to disease and death above and beyond traditional risk factors such as smoking, blood pressure, and physical activity!
These are very serious, very real, and very human results from not being connected to others in fellowship and community.
Maybe that’s you. Please hear me say again: this is not how it should be.
As such, we need to cultivate a kind of fellowship and community where people are able to bring stress, depression, anxieties, sin, and sadness to the corporate table, and address it precisely where they are and for exactly what it is. For many years at our church, we have hosted a Celebrate Recovery ministry. It was a fellowship, community, and equipping environment that cultivated what was described in Acts 2 for those willing to openly acknowledge the hurts, habits, and hang-ups of their lives. Every semester we saw tremendous gains for the kingdom of God. Sadly, physical distancing has made it difficult, if not impossible, to have a Celebrate Recovery ministry at this time.
However, thanks to the wonders of technology and an incredible team of Bethelonians that recognize the significant need for fellowship surrounding these poignant and painful areas of life, we have come together to create a community of a new kind in the Bethel Recovery and Careministry. While it is currently housed exclusively online via Zoom and Facebook Live, it has already created needed community and tackled with excellence, equippedness, and clarity tough issues such as anxiety and depression. These subjects are just the tip of the iceberg. The BRC team recognizes that fear, self-doubt, loneliness, shame, relationship breakdown, and other painful issues are not just real, but are relational in nature. No one should ever face these alone! As such, the need for a caring and equipping community surrounding these delicate matters is a high value. And in the few short weeks that this community has been in existence, it has already grown by the dozens as people are finding a place to grow together in the areas of life the enemy does not want us to talk about in the open.
I share all of this with you to pose a very simple question: at this stage of your life, right now, is this a community that you need?
If that is the case, this community is for you. And I would encourage you to click here, and join others on the same journey.
Church family, some of you/us have been blessed to not share in the struggles that I’ve highlighted in this article. But we still shoulder a significant burden of responsibility. We need to have community of all kinds. And that means that sometimes we need to go beyond the surface level dialogue and get into the trenches of people’s lives with them. So I want to challenge you to get out of your comfort zone, get to the real deal(s) of life in your fellowship, and each do our individual part(s) to create the transparency lived out in the community of Acts 2, and get a taste of Revelation 7 right here in our fellowship today!