What Is Community?
Around here at Greenville College, there is a lot of commotion about community. We all have heard it in classes, from the pulpit in chapel, from upper classmen, and have heard administration using this word as a point of advertising for the college. I too have used this word to describe my basketball team as well as the people on this campus. This word “community” is often used here without any thought. We nonchalantly talk about this word as if everyone is plugged into a community and understands what a real community looks like. In Resident Aliens, written by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, community is challenged to be something more than just a “community for the sake of community” (77). This book has challenged my thought of community and has convinced me that the Christian community should contain a lot more encouragement, discipleship, and its purpose while coming together should be more focused on attempting to be faithful to Jesus.
I believe many people in the Christian faith unknowingly have a false belief that community is important merely because life is better when spent with people as opposed to being alone. I have seen many youth groups that would be more adequately referred to as a “glorified social hour” than a group of people attempting to be faithful to Jesus. It is so easy to be caught up in modern conveniences of trying to keep teens entertained during the hour on Sundays and Wednesdays that these teenagers are entering into a fake community. Instead of learning to lift up one another’s burdens up to God, learning to encourage and being taught how to do life together; they are temporarily being relieved of loneliness by having people to hang out with.
A monster of its own is social media and how it has begun to affect our communities. With social media sites, people are spending hours a day checking for notifications and scrolling through the current updates of their friends’ lives. When people see a “like” on Facebook or a “favorite” on Instagram, there is at least a slight feeling of self-worth because someone took the two seconds to push a button. However, we all know that just because someone has a certain number of friends on Facebook, or certain number of “favorites” does not really mean they have any genuine friendships. I believe this is killing our communities. People are “detached, very devoid of purpose and [have a] coherent world view” as Haauerwas and Willimon put it (78). People are therefore attracted to any community, whether it promotes Christian truth or not. It is the Christian community’s job to fight this individualism and temporary “togetherness” people feel when together or even on the internet. Life in a Christian colony may have this togetherness, but that is not the main goal. The goal is be faithful to Jesus first and then togetherness will come when reaching the goal.
The authors are not suggesting youth group or other communities of faith are wrong. In fact, they propose that if Christians are really following Jesus, community is essential to keep one accountable. “Christians survive only by supporting one another through the countless small acts which we tell one another we are not alone” (13) they say. And the reason Christians need this support is because the cross is hard to carry all by oneself, which many individualistic Americans have fallen into. The cross holds a high standard; a standard that makes Christians different from the whole world that the only way we could conceive to even be successful at this call is to lean on one another. This call does not give an option, but instead makes community a necessary part of living the Christian faith.
Therefore, the argument is not if we need community or not, because we certainly do. Rather, the argument is that community has been distorted to be just an ethical circle rather than upholding one another to the standard of Jesus. What should separate the Christian faith from other communities is that it is centered around the truth, that is; Jesus. While there can be communities who desire “Christian ethics” such as peace, love, and justice for all, our faith community holds the true meaning of these things because it is centered around Jesus who just so happens to be the author of these things. These ethics should not be lived out by the world standards, for that would defeat the purpose of the usefulness of the church community. Instead, the church must constantly refocus itself to Jesus in order to continue striving after this truth we claim to hold.
Community is about “disciplining our wants and needs in congruence with a true story” and that true story holds firm in Jesus’ words and life (78). While I used to think that the community in church, small groups, or even here at Greenville was enough, I have been challenged to really evaluate the community I say I am part of. I do not want to live in community just to be around people. The Christian faith community has the potential to change the people around them if we live in radical obedience to Jesus. The only way to do that is to uphold one another to the standards of Christian truth and to love one another so deeply we expect nothing less as ask the tough questions and challenge one another’s faith. A community like this, that’s the one I want to be part of.