John Donne famously wrote, "No man is an island." (The only reason I know that is because Ben Howard, centuries later, sang a song about it.) I'm not familiar with Donne's beliefs, but I think his statement is true. We were created to be a part of something bigger than our individual selves. We were made to live in community, and evidence is found all throughout Scripture.
For almost all of 2013, I lived 20-feet deep in community. Before that, and for the majority of my life, I've been blessed with a tight group of friends—people who like to break beneath surface-level living and dig deep. Four years ago, that group had to start operating as a remote bunch.
You see, in 2010, one of us moved to Arizona, and then again to Germany. In 2012, one moved to Hawaii, then to Savannah, then to Nashville. In 2013, I took off for an 11-month overseas journey, then moved to Africa. And a few remained in our hometown. But for the last two weeks, we've all been within a 30-mile radius of one another… and that's got me thinking about community and the importance of it.
If you're blessed to be a part of a larger body of believers, I encourage you to cherish your time with those people. Invest in your community and seek to recognize its importance. It is certainly a gift from God.
Functionality as a Body
Your body needs many parts in order to function. Your heart can't be a liver, and your kidney can't do what your lungs do. There is only one Body of Christ, but within that body are many people, many churches, many denominations (1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, Romans 12). And like the kidney and the lung, each of us has been uniquely equipped, with different personality types, spiritual gifts, skill sets and experiences, to fulfill a specific purpose.
Ephesians 4:12 and 1 Corinthians 14:12 tell us that spiritual gifts are given so that we can "build up the body." Our gifting is not for our individual benefit, and we shouldn't deprive the body of the gifts given to us by God. Each person must contribute because no one is equipped with every gift. Teachers, pastors, servants, encouragers, discerners, healers, givers, leaders, prophets, administrators—we need them all.
Encouragement and Challenge
Hebrews 10:24-25 tells us, "Consider how [you] may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each one another all the more as you see the Day approaching." And Proverbs 27:17 says, "As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend."
I've seen few things ignite change in a person like encouragement and challenge. Of course, both should be extended in God's truth and love. I've heard a couple of my favorite pastors say something along the lines of this: Truth without love is harshness, and love without truth is sentimentality. The two must go hand-in-hand.
Truth-tellers in particular (like myself) must keep in mind that challenge often necessitates relationship. Even if given in love, your challenge may not be received (and can even cause significant wounding) if you don't have a relationship with the person you're speaking to. Unfortunately, I know this because of multiple experiences.
Protection and Support
Before I went on the Race, someone told me, "Just make sure you journey alongside other believers. Often times, we try to go after our calling on our own… and when we're on our own, we're much more susceptible to the enemy's attack." That piece of advice makes me think about the Lost Sheep and provides further explanation for why Jesus left many to go after the one. In a physical sense and a spiritual sense, there truly is safety in numbers.
Community also provides unconditional support for the individual who needs it. At some point, each of us will go through seasons of weakness and pain, and Christ commands the healthy to aid the burdened (Galatians 6:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:14).
Again, I encourage you to invest in your community. This week, take a friend out for coffee, lend a listening ear, give an encouraging word or offer your support to someone in need.