Talk of community seems to echo off the walls wherever you turn, especially within the Church. What is it about community that keeps it on the forefront of the mind and the tip of the tongue? The answer is simple enough to be complex: everyone wants it. There seems to be some innate desire in humans to be accepted and connected. To deny this is to deny being human.
However, "community" talk can be troubling because of its ambiguous nature. What community is to one can be completely different to another, leaving its definition a shade of grey. And what makes it even more confusing is that this ‘grey’ nature is part of community’s definition, leaving all of us who participate in it open to confusion.
Most of us have experienced both sides of the community spectrum: wonderful and horrible. In John Ortberg’s book, Everybody’s Normal ‘Till You Get to Know Them, he discusses this aspect of community using an amazing analogy. Ortberg describes porcupines as having thousands of sharp quills, adding that their name in Latin laterally means, “the irritable back.” Porcupines do one of two things when faced with a difficult situation, withdraw or attack. It’s amazing to think that these creatures mate, and Ortberg proposes the question, “How do you get close, without getting hurt?”
This is the question that we ask ourselves every day, how do we get close, without getting hurt? This is a question deep inside of us; it is a question that we must answer.
The answer is found in Acts 2. This chapter describes many things about the early church. Many wonders were being performed; thousands of people became followers and believers. And people from different countries were speaking; yet all could understand each other’s language.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles (Acts 2:42-43, TNIV).
If you look at the word community it can be broken into two words, common and unity. Common, meaning similar, shared and reoccurring, and unity, meaning together, harmony or whole. In Acts it says that they had life together, they shared in common, and they held “everything in common.”
The early church did not sit around and focus on their differences; rather they focused on their commonalities. Today, the Church has often become a place where our differences define us. So often the Church seeks either conformity or competition. This is not community. Community is focusing on our similarities, appreciating our differences, gathering in the name of Christ and eagerly awaiting what is next.