In a world where human “connection” is spent in cyberspace and we’re apparently the most connected we’ve ever been, we’re the most disconnected we’ve ever been in real-life relationships.
Sure, we know lots of people. We may have friends who are walking the same walk toward Christ — but we’re still just as alone as if we were by ourselves.
What if I told you that there’s more?
And that it’s found in community? (Because it is.)
But the problem is, we don’t actually know what that word means. We like the idea of what we think it means.
Here’s what community isn’t: It isn’t just a connection online. It’s not a group of people who have the same interests. It’s not even having other friends who are Catholic just like you.
Community is so much more than that. And it’s actually necessary for you to become holy. (More on that later).
Here’s what community actually is: a group of men and women running the same race toward Christ who are vulnerable with one another, hold each other accountable in virtue and spend time together. The time spent together is twofold: in prayer and in fellowship. (I kind of gag at that word because it’s so cliché and misused, but I’ll explain the concept I’m going for later.)
So let’s break this idea down into three things.
Guys, you have friends who you consider brothers. Girls, you have friends you consider sisters. If you have a good relationship with them, you’re able to tell your brother or sister some pretty deep stuff. They encourage you, they call you out when you’re being dumb, and you talk to them regularly about what the Lord is doing in your heart, both your joys and struggles. They share in your joy, and support you in your struggle. Note that men should do this with men, and women with women. “Iron sharpens iron,” they say. You can only become a better man or woman from sharing a daily Christian life with other men or women respectively.
These friends are just as committed as you in becoming a saint. You are vulnerable with one another, sharing the depths of your hearts, and seeking each other out to grow in virtue, especially when you need help in it.
How do we build this?
- Seek out 3 –4 friends in your area who are just as committed as you to living a virtuous life. (It’s also good to discipline yourself to stay in touch with friends like this not in your area. Don’t let virtuous long-distance friendships fall to the wayside because they’re not physically near you. Be a good steward of your relationships!)
- Commit to deepening those individual friendships. One-on-one meals eaten together or coffee shared is a great way to get to know someone in a deep way.
- Get these friends together in a group setting so you all get to know each other! Doing some kind of regular small group or Bible study with these people is a great way to grow and learn how to be vulnerable with one another. Now you have a mini community. (P.S. Also hang out with these people just for fun outside of small group/Bible study.)
Spending time together as a community in prayer is so important. There is something so unifying and encouraging in praying together, men with men, women with women, and both men and women together. This is God building your community. “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there in their midst” (Mt 18:20). Some of my most powerful prayer experiences have happened while praying with a group of people!
How do we build this?
- If these people are your roommates, consider doing morning or night prayer together, however it fits into your schedule.
- If these people aren’t your roommates, spend some time praying as a community at events you have together. This could be a short time of intercessory prayer, praise and worship, or whatever else you want it to be. Prayer is free for creativity.
- Pray together at the beginning and end of your small group/Bible study sessions!
As I mentioned, I really dislike the cliché word “fellowship,” but it’s so much more than just hanging out. You spend time all together as a group, sure, having fun, but something wonderful happens when you’re all running the same race, all of you encouraged by, supported by, and held accountable by one another. You find joy in the presence of these men and women. There is this carelessness, timelessness, ease and even a sense of celebration the presence of the other. You celebrate and acknowledge God within these people, which leads you to acknowledge the goodness of God Himself.
How do we build this?
Create events specifically for this purpose. One beautiful thing I’ve done with friends is having a dinner either Saturday evening or sometime on Sunday to celebrate the Lord’s Day. You have a meal together, pray together and simply enjoy the presence of God in your lives and the presence of each other.
Because we misunderstand the real meaning of community, it isn’t something we really strive for. It’s nice to have, but we don’t make an effort to develop it.
The fact of the matter is, community takes effort to develop. It’s not going to happen naturally. You have to build it. And community is necessary to growing spiritually.
Jesus didn’t choose the Apostles just so they could hang out together. He built the Church from them. They were given a mission, and they had to rely on each other for help. Jesus knew that, being the mess of humanity that we are, we need other people to encourage us and hold us accountable in our earthly journey toward Heaven
And to have a healthy spiritual life, we need to apply ourselves to some kind of mission; but we also need to be fed by a community of people as well. Here’s the thing: You can’t evangelize without solid community.
Without a healthy community to be fed from, you die out and burn out.
Your evangelization is not meant to be done alone. You need to set aside time with roommates, teammates, virtuous friends – whomever – to be fruitful in your mission. And to get to heaven. It’s real hard to get there without it.
Start small. Grab a couple friends. Go deeper. Watch God work.