Spiritual Disciplines—On Community and Fellowship
Exploring what it means to intentionally cultivate and grow our communities.
In our ever-connected world, humans have the opportunity to communicate with each other more than ever. But even though the average adult has hundreds of friends and connections on social media, we normally only communicate with four to six people directly on a weekly basis. With the growing concerns over the negative mental health consequences of social media consumption, we’re forced to ask ourselves, is this the kind of connection we were created for?
In the second creation poem found in Genesis, God comments that it is not good for the human he had created to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Immediately, a search is commenced to find a suitable companion.
But God didn’t just create human community for the sake of belonging and comfort. Genesis 1 shows us that the identity of humans is inextricably connected to their purpose as vice-regent stewards over creation. Our connection to each other is meant to propel us forward in our identity as image-bearers of God.
Dutch priest Henri Nouwen describes Christian community, not as a closed circle of people embracing each other, “but a forward-moving group of companions bound together by the same voice asking for their attention.” If community is an important aspect of our life of following Jesus, then shouldn’t it be treated with the same level of intentional action as any other spiritual discipline?
To ignore intentionally cultivating community with others is to cut ourselves off from each other—to waste away in solitude. We feel the hunger that is left by social distancing, remote work, and ever-increasingly smaller cliques on social media. Choosing to build community as a spiritual discipline helps us connect to and celebrate the image of God in every person we meet—no matter how we differ or disagree with them.
God’s very nature is one of fellowship in diversity, and seeking to practice forging communal bonds with all people God has created—even those the world has neglected or forgotten—is an act of worship.
Jesus himself often intentionally sought out those who were cut off from others and worked to restore them to community (Luke 5:12-16 and 8:43-48). Reconnecting them with their fellow humans was an essential component of the healing he brought about in their lives. We follow in Jesus’ footsteps when we choose to engage others intentionally, compassionately, and prayerfully. Cultivating community in this way creates space for ourselves and others to grow into the fullness of who God created us to be.
As British theologian N.T. Wright points out, we as humans were “designed to find our purpose and meaning not simply in ourselves…but in one another.” So as we continue to learn how to live in this ever-connected and ever-isolated society, one of the ways we grow in our worship of God is by cultivating community and deepening our connection to each other.
As we seek to engage the spiritual discipline of cultivating community as an act of worship, author Christine Pohl offers four practices that sustain community: gratitude, promise-keeping, truth-telling, and hospitality. These practices serve as guide rails as we endeavor to engage each other authentically and healthily. However, an essential starting point for every aspect of following Jesus is prayer and conversation. In prayer, we invite God to help us reflect and prompt questions about whether we are being called to invest in a new community in this season. Having a conversation with a close friend about these topics allows a diversity of feedback. One might even find that both parties desire to learn together how to create space for others to experience the glory and beauty of God.
As we continue to learn how to grow in our relationship with Jesus, let us not neglect to gather together in Christ-centered community (Hebrews 10:25). Rather may we commit to an intentional investment in community that moves beyond a safe shelter or cozy clique, but is gathered and formed by the divine call of the One who is love-in-community.
Words: Drew Williams
Photography: Andreas Wagner, Daniel J. Schwarz