Simply defined, a community is a group of people with common interests who live in a specific location. You could then say that a church community is a group of people with a common faith in Christ who meet in a specific location. But is this definition an adequate description of what God intended the church to be? Dustin Willis, the author of “Life in Community,” doesn’t think so. He proposes that community life in the church is people who have experienced the mercy and grace of God coming together to love and help one another for the sake of their spiritual, physical, and emotional well-being. He likens the church community to a table where a family gathers to enjoy one another and to share their lives. And that table, which belongs to God, has room for anyone who wants a seat at it.
He begins by describing the importance of being a community and how it is formed in the church. He points out our innate desire to belong or be a part of a community as God designed us so. Due to our culture’s push for individualism and the convenience of social media, many people around us have isolated themselves from a physical or emotional connection with other people and are experiencing great loneliness. They long for meaningful relationships in “a community that discovers and clings to identity, worth, and value.” God created the Church to be a “community with a deeper foundation and a brighter future than anything the world has to offer.” The local church should function as a Gospel community reaching the “hurting, the lonely, the has-beens, the have-nots, the accomplished, the rebellious, and the self-righteous” to bring them into a relationship with Jesus Christ and others who believe in Him which would effectively eradicate their spiritual loneliness and despair.
A community is then formed in the church through the discovery of the common ground found in our need for a Savior and the mercy of God because of our sin nature. Dustin says, “you can’t have a community without common ground, and through the gospel, we have the deepest commonality that exists: the blood of Christ that unites us as family.” This gospel community is perpetuated through the continual transformation of each member into the image of Christ as Dustin says, “living out our faith was never intended to be done in isolation but within a community. The gospel is the driving force to our transformation, and community is the context where the greatest growth and revolution takes place.”
In the next section of his book, Dustin describes the values for living in community as given to us from the Scripture. The foundation of these values is based on the truth that we are members of the Body of Christ and each of us is especially gifted by the Holy Spirit to individually minister for the good of the whole body, not just on Sunday when we gather together, but every day. In order to foster a genuine biblical community, we must be transparent and sincere. We cannot function as a community without truth and honesty. Dustin goes on then to point out the importance of believers in a gospel community to develop a hatred for sin and love or pursuit of righteousness. In this kind of community, people care enough about each other to say something when a person is in sin and offer help to that person for the sake of his/her soul and the community at large. People in a gospel community choose and practice love to one another; they come alongside those who are struggling or hurting to help them persevere; they meet the needs of those who are lacking; they pursue Biblical hospitality as a way of welcoming people into a community.
“Life in Community” is an easy book to read, but its message is not so easy to receive as the author continually challenges his readers to evaluate their perspective and approach to church in relation to God’s intention for the church, as given in Scripture, to be a gospel community which ministers God’s grace to the members for their spiritual growth and reaches the world for Him. As a way to encourage you to read this book, I will be giving away 3 copies in the upcoming evening gathering.