How We Sometimes Get Community Wrong
Sometimes as Christian’s we can leave community to chance. We have our organised events, meetings and social opportunities but the individual relationships between us can be neglected. How are your relationships fairing these days at work, church and home? Has routine and familiarity become king? Have niggling conflicts been swept under the carpet for so long that they’re starting to spill out the sides?
How are you ‘cultivating’ community in your spheres? If you leave community to chance you’ll have the same result as a garden that has been deserted – it will be growing, but definitely not cultivated. This is the difference between wild plants and a cultivated garden:
- One is haphazard and disordered, the other has function, beauty and is intentional
- One has more aggressive plants swallowing up and suffocating other plants, in the other each plant has its place and is nurtured to flourish
- In one unwanted weeds can spread unchecked, in the other weeds are quickly addressed and removed
Which is why so much of the bible is dedicated not just to how we relate to God, but also how we intentionally relate to each other.
33 Dear children, I will be with you only a little longer…. 34 So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
You don’t have to command people to do things that come naturally! So clearly Jesus knew we would need to be instructed on this point from time to time. This verse speaks of intentionality.
Using the garden analogy, let’s discuss two things that are required for a cultivated community.
- Good soil.
The condition of your heart, and the presence of the Holy Spirit will always determine the fruitfulness of a community. The bible is full of analogies about this!
If you’re lucky enough to work at a Christian organisation or church you will have many opportunities to interact with God’s word, but that can’t replace our personal attentiveness to the condition of our hearts. Unless we are bringing our hearts (particularly our hearts in relationship to others) under the refining hand of Christ, we may not have the good soil needed to cultivate a good community.
The best way to do a heart-soil test is to do a fruit test. Luke 6:45 A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.
What you say, and how you say it, will reveal what is going on in your heart. If we tend to the condition of our hearts we will find that we are more willing and more able to positively cultivate our communities.
A cultivated garden has intentional planting, watering, pruning – intentional care and behaviour. Similarly, a cultivated community – either in your businesses, classrooms, counselling practices, churches, workplaces or home – requires intentionality towards each other.
Sometimes we are tempted to only “do our Christian duty” when it comes to how we treat each other. We don’t want to “get in trouble with God” so as long as we act nice, don’t say anything overtly rude, don’t gossip, then we’re ok right? But that results in the bare minimum Christian behaviour – we become an isolated garden of cactuses! Low maintenance, separated, and prickly. I don’t think that was the idea Jesus had in mind when he said our community would show the world that we are His.
That’s not the Christian’s call to community. We are instructed to love others as we love ourselves. We don’t love ourselves begrudgingly, doing the bare minimum. We really care about the condition, nourishment, and development of ourselves. We invest in ourselves!
Therefore, we shouldn’t do the bare minimum for our community and hope it will plod along on its own. We should cultivate it! Nourishing each other with encouragement, quickly pulling out the weeds of offence and misunderstanding, giving attention to those that are struggling, and recognizing when we have taken up too much space and are smothering other people’s growth, keeping our soil rich so that God’s goodness will flow out of our hearts to others.
God wants us to care about our horizontal relationship with each other, not just our vertical relationship with Him.
Which means – Don’t wait until you feel like it. The best way to feel loving towards others is to act loving before you feel it- pray for them, care about their wellbeing, want the best for them.
It might require ‘planting’ new things like meetings, relationships or behaviours. But also, it may simply look like cultivating the relationships, meetings, and interactions we already have according to the cultivation instructions in God’s word.
How’s your green thumb? Be the cultivator almost your communities today!