"This is why I speak to them in parables, because ‘though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.’"
Matthew 13:13, TNIV
Reading Matthew 13 recently, I was reminded of a scene in White Men Can’t Jump, a movie from 1992, that starred a young Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson. At one point in the film, Harrelson’s character is listening to Jimi Hendrix and Snipes’ character sort of laughs and makes the statement that “you can listen to Jimi, but you can’t hear Jimi.” It’s a great scene and lately my mind has been spinning this very scene into a modern parable of sorts.
There’s a trend or, rather, a Renaissance in the body of Christ right now. It’s the rebirth of Christians thinking in terms of community rather than an individual pursuit of personal “holiness.” Some people are listening to the trend and others are actually hearing the calling of this trend. To listen is to observe, to hear is to participate and get swept up by the movement.
The more I learn about following Jesus—and the more my passions are transformed into His passions—I’m realizing that God is community. He is relational. The doctrine of the trinity takes on a whole new meaning to me when I realize that God is community with Himself. God is relational. Simply put, following Jesus is about our relationship with God and our relationship with other people. If either one of these things is missing in our life, we’re merely listening and not hearing. Most of us can understand the importance of having a relationship with God because that relationship is personal and individualistic. However, relationship with other people, well, that’s a different story.
Because of our natural tendency to live our lives for ourselves (or even live our lives to protect ourselves) most of us don’t actively engage in community. We’re either too busy or we have compartmentalized our friendships. Over here are our "church" friends and over here are our "other" friends. Why the division? Maybe—just maybe—there is a correlation between our relationship with God and our relationship with other people.
Could it be that when we compartmentalize our relationship with God, we tend to compartmentalize our relationships with other people? When we feel like being Christians, we hang out with our Christian friends. When we feel like being something other than Christian, we hang out with our "other" friends.
Why is that?
Maybe it’s because our faith is too personal? It’s between us and God. Up to this point in my life, I would probably have agreed with that concept of Christianity. However, in hopes of truly being Christian (according to the book of Acts), I want to be known for following Christ so closely that people see the living God through every aspect of my life.
Life transformation happens in the midst of healthy community: A healthy community of Christians who are following Jesus Christ. It’s a new family, one that experiences life together, celebrates and mourns together and one that experiences transformation together.
“Your faith is private, it’s personal, and I respect that.” I’m not sure who said that to me, but I’m now seeing that there is a generation of people who truly believe this. Maybe my parents’ generation, I don’t know. Regardless, it is possible that faith is private and personal. Faithfulness could even be private and personal, but following Jesus Christ was never intended to be private or personal. It was intended to be lived out in community, with Christians and non-Christian. Community is where relationship happens, and it is only through relationship that people gain trust. Trust is the only ingredient for life changing dialogue.
Personal faith is listening and observing Christianity.
Community faith is hearing and engaging in the following of Jesus Christ with others.
Personal faith is a sprint. Community faith is a marathon.
Personal faith can be religious. Community faith is relational.
Personal faith is private. Community faith is public.
Personal faith is clean and predictable. Community faith can be dirty and unpredictable.
In a “me-driven" culture, community is counter cultural. It stretches me—I think it stretches all of us. Before you have friends, you must be a friend. We must begin to hear the call of community—we must participate.
Rather than listening, let’s write a new song. Rather than observing, let’s create and participate.
This renaissance is about shifting our mindset from finding joy in our personal pursuit of following Jesus and beginning to find our joy in seeing others following Jesus. Celebrating the victory in other’s lives, rather than our own. Participating in others’ lives and helping them discover what God’s passion is for their life during the transformation process of following Jesus. That’s community. That’s a movement. That’s hearing and following the voice of God, but also hearing and meeting the needs of God’s people—whether Christian or non-Christian.