God is love.”

If you’re a Chris­t­ian, you believe that state­ment. It’s a beau­ti­ful truth, one that’s cap­tured all of us. It’s a deep real­i­ty that con­veys immense mean­ing and hope to those that fol­low God. We’ve fall­en in love with Him because He first loved us.

But that phrase, “God is love,” is also key to see­ing His intent for a shared com­mu­ni­ty life in the church. The fact of God being love is impos­si­ble, unless there is some­one to love. God, even before cre­ation, expressed His idea of true com­mu­ni­ty life—essentially, His life is the true com­mu­ni­ty life. The Father, the Son, the Holy Spir­it, com­muning togeth­er eternally.

When He cre­at­ed us in His image, He in essence cre­at­ed us with the intent of shar­ing that com­mu­nal life, to expand His life into and among us, to inhab­it us. You can find this intent all through the scrip­tures. Think of Jesus’ prayer in John 17 for his dis­ci­ples, and for “those who will believe in Me because of their word”: “That they would all be one, even as You, Father are in me…” He was ask­ing that we would share that exact same life that He and the Father shared.

I believe that there is a hunger for that com­mu­ni­ty that is part of our cre­at­ed being; we want it even with­out know­ing. It seems that hunger even pricks us with dis­sat­is­fac­tion in the midst of our self-absorbed pur­suits that are lead­ing us fur­ther and fur­ther from liv­ing in His orig­i­nal intent.

Look at the cul­ture of the world, which John says is under the con­trol of the evil one (1 John 5:19), and being as such can be direct­ly opposed to the intent and ways of God: it either teach­es us to live inde­pen­dent­ly, rely­ing on no one but our­selves, or it offers up con­ter­feit com­mu­ni­ty expe­ri­ences that are ulti­mate­ly shal­low and unfulfilling.

It’s no won­der, then, that the idea of com­mu­ni­ty seems to get fixed on with such a pas­sion. “Let’s live in com­mu­ni­ty!” we say, and we scheme of ways to bring that about, which large­ly focus on the logis­tics of com­mu­ni­ty such as land pur­chas­es or co-hous­ing, how to allo­cate resources, sup­port the com­mu­ni­ty, shar­ing costs and divvy­ing up responsibilities.

The prob­lem is that these are all con­structs that we think will bring about a com­mu­ni­ty life, but the most any of these things can do is to put in place a system—made by us—for liv­ing a life in close prox­im­i­ty to one another.

Prox­im­i­ty is not com­mu­ni­ty life.

True Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ty is sim­ply the life of King Jesus expressed in His peo­ple. It is a life found­ed on King Jesus, and it takes the form of peo­ple liv­ing in peace and joy with a tan­gi­ble love and uni­ty, being “one heart, one mind, intent on one thing.”

I sub­mit to you that the prox­im­i­ty part of com­mu­ni­ty, which we tend to think of as com­mu­ni­ty, is real­ly a byprod­uct of true community.

Can you find one place in the scrip­tures, espe­cial­ly in the let­ters from the Apos­tles, where they were instruct­ing or encour­ag­ing peo­ple to live in prox­im­i­ty with each oth­er? I can’t. Grant­ed, their cul­ture and time made prox­im­i­ty some­what inevitable and nec­es­sary, and there are plen­ty of com­mands and encour­age­ments to love one anoth­er, do good to one anoth­er, care for one anoth­er, etc. But I have nev­er seen the com­mand, “Live in close prox­im­i­ty to one another!”

Prox­im­i­ty does not make a com­mu­ni­ty, except in a world­ly, man-made sense.

I’m not say­ing that liv­ing close togeth­er shouldn’t be done (I actu­al­ly think it should). What I am say­ing is that if you think you’re going to enter into true com­mu­ni­ty with peo­ple by agree­ing to move onto the same piece of land togeth­er, or into a neigh­bor­hood, apart­ment com­plex, or sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion, where you can all be with­in walk­ing dis­tance of each oth­er, to be “in each other’s lives every day”—you’re wrong. I am implor­ing you to not do this.

You should not attempt to live in close com­mu­ni­ty (prox­im­i­ty) until you have the lead­ing from the Lord—confirmed by the mem­bers of your local Church—and you are already liv­ing a life of true com­mu­ni­ty that you find is being ham­pered by the local Church mem­bers not liv­ing in proximity.

In short, don’t live togeth­er until you can’t stand to be apart.

It is pos­si­ble to live in the com­mu­ni­ty life of God with­out liv­ing togeth­er. I’ve done it. Ulti­mate­ly, we end­ed up mov­ing to live togeth­er in phys­i­cal com­mu­ni­ty, but this came about because God had worked with us over a long peri­od of time, buil­ing us togeth­er into a real fam­i­ly with a love and uni­ty that was so great that we hat­ed to be apart. We had already been learn­ing how to embrace the cross togeth­er, to be open and walk in the light togeth­er, to share all things, to speak the truth in love. We were com­mit­ted. We knew that God had called us togeth­er, and we were watch­ing Him work among and around us constantly.

But even that deci­sion to move into prox­im­i­ty with each oth­er came through sim­ply fol­low­ing Him as He led us, as He built us into His body. The first pock­ets of com­mu­ni­ty in our church were made through tak­ing care of each other—my fam­i­ly took in a sin­gle moth­er, for instance, and anoth­er fam­i­ly did the same. One fam­i­ly had a cou­ple sin­gle men liv­ing in their house. The first tries didn’t go all that well, though. Peo­ple got fed up and moved away from each oth­er, there were plen­ty of fights, some yelling and ugli­ness. But real love got worked out through all of those instances, and those that were seri­ous about going on with the Lord stuck togeth­er and did go on. We expe­ri­enced then a fur­ther rev­e­la­tion of what the Psalms say (Ps 133), “Behold how good and pleas­ant it is for broth­ers to dwell togeth­er in unity.”

It seems like God eased us into a shared com­mu­ni­ty life of close prox­im­i­ty. It was all very organic—and last­ing, because our focus was nev­er liv­ing in com­mu­ni­ty, but sim­ply fol­low­ing our King, and giv­ing Him what He want­ed.

Liv­ing in com­mu­ni­ty requires the grace of God, every day. That com­mu­ni­ty I described above is still togeth­er, almost 25 years lat­er. When­ev­er I rem­i­nisce with the old fogies about the ear­ly days and ask ques­tions like, “How did you stay togeth­er dur­ing all that?” I get the same answer from every one of them:

It was the grace of God.”

There is only one rea­son a church should be in exis­tence: To give God what He wants. If you make any­thing else the cen­ter and focus of the church, you will like­ly miss out on the abun­dant grace that He gives to sup­port His pur­pose. If you make liv­ing in prox­im­i­ty the focus, and don’t let it hap­pen through the lead­ing of God, you’re liable to find Him not sup­port­ing your endeav­ors, and pos­si­bly oppos­ing them. I have seen again and again how peo­ple pur­su­ing their ideas of the Church—no mat­ter how well-inten­tioned they are—not only get in the way of God hav­ing His idea of the Church, but cause dam­age to the work He’s doing.

The Psalms are true: liv­ing togeth­er in uni­ty is a mar­velous thing, and some­thing I believe God great­ly desires for His peo­ple. You should great­ly desire it. But also see that we have to allow Him to take our ideas of the Church and com­mu­ni­ty (our “wish dream” as Bon­ho­ef­fer says), and replace them with His idea, and then sub­mit to being the build­ing mate­ri­als for His spir­i­tu­al house.

He builds a much more love­ly and last­ing home than we could ever build.

7 thoughts on “Don’t Start a Christian Community

  1. I love it. Great read and a heart­felt mes­sage that needs to be heard by those who are intend­ing to make a vil­lage (com­mu­ni­ty) for God. Thanks David.

  2. Seri­ous­ly, sol­id real­i­ty of Christ, brother.

    The church with which we have been built togeth­er has gone through sea­sons of close prox­im­i­ty and clos­er prox­im­i­ty. It’s won­der­ful while it lasts, and you learn to savor it. You also learn to hold fast the Head and not the prox­im­i­ty of the Body.

    Thanks for keep­ing the focus on our Lord and His beau­ti­ful, eter­nal purpose.

    1. So encour­ag­ing to hear you share this broth­er! I love your state­ment ” do not live togeth­er until you can’t stand to be apart.” In this epic jour­ney of being a Chris­t­ian we will encounter oth­er believ­ers who are like mind­ed in our quest to have more BODY LIFE, MORE CHRIST and enjoy the fruit that only is revealed when we are togeth­er. Some may only be in your “close prox­im­i­ty ” for a short sea­son or even only a brief gath­er­ing and oth­ers may be life long friends we count clos­er than fam­i­ly the point is we need each oth­er! We were designed for this and how bet­ter to show a starv­ing cold world than by liv­ing the truth of “By this all men will know you are my dici­ples ; if you LOVE ONE ANOTHER!” Keep writ­ing! ❤️

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