In my last post, we looked at how singles can build our own family by giving ourselves to others. Today we are going to look at another way to build our own family: being a part of a community.
To illustrate how powerful community is, I want to look at the life of St. Patrick. This famous saint understood that the Gospel is beautifully communicated through family, whether a traditional family or a body of believers.
According to the book The Celtic Way of Evangelism, Patrick was an Englishman in the fifth century who was sold into slavery to Ireland when he was sixteen. He escaped after six years and returned to Ireland. Many years later, he came back to Ireland to bring the good news to the people who once held him captive.
Patrick decided to try something different than the Roman model, which looked like people who already believe come to church and listen to a priest. Patrick would travel with a small group of believers and ask the leaders of a an Irish community if they could set up camp near the town center.
Patrick’s small group of people, which would include singles, marrieds, religious leaders, normal citizens, and artists, would live in a shared space together. They would eat together on a regular basis and worship together. They would attempt to learn a lot about the culture and befriend people, praying for them, and being part of the greater community.
They would invite their new friends into the missional community for meals and, if they were ready, worship times. The people were not told that they had to believe before they belonged. Patrick and his community brought about a message that said “you belong even before you believe.”
If you were part of Patrick’s core community, you were paired up with an anamchara which is translated as “soul friend.” These pairs would listen to, counsel, and challenge each other.
What were the results of this new way of doing things? Patrick and his peopled planted at about 700 churches. Within Patrick’s lifetime, thirty to forty of Ireland’s 150 tribes considered themselves Christians. Quite impressive numbers considering there were almost no Christians in Ireland before Patrick came.
Community is powerful. It allows you to feel like you are a part of a family, something singles desperately need. But even more importantly, it shows the world the love of Jesus. As the old song says they will know we are Christians by our love.
Here are some steps to take towards community…
Step 1: Ask yourself if your “independent” life is worth it.
This is the world most Americans have created to keep ourselves as comfortable as possible: we wake up and turn on the radio so we don’t have to think. We eat our cereal alone so we don’t have to cook. We drive to our jobs so we don’t have to interact. We nod to our roommates when we get home and hole ourselves in our rooms so we don’t have to invest. We put fences up so we don’t have to connect. We participate in social networking so we don’t have to communicate anything deep. We check our iphones as often as possible to saturate our minds with information so we don’t have to contemplate. We watch our televisions so we don’t have to feel. And in these days that blur into months that blur into lifetimes, we are incredibly comfortable. But we are also incredibly unhappy and lonely.
Ask yourself, is my independence and comfortability worth living a life without community?
Step 2: Look for a healthy place to be in community.
If the answer to step one is no, it’s time to start looking for community. In my own search, I have ended up living on two farms that were intentional communities, and other organizations that are built around missional community. (Jacob’s Springs in Boulder, CO, Beta Communities where I now live in San Diego who actually pattern themselves after Patrick’s way of evangelism, Innerchange in San Francisco, and YWAM all over the place.) These were situations in which I actually lived in the same house or farm with other people who have committed to live life, eat meals, and worship together.
If that is a little too much for you, look for churches where there are very strong cell groups put in place. If you go to a big church but never go to a small group you run the risk of thinking you have authentic community when all you really have is a place that you go to listen to a sermon and have surfacey conversations about how cute your new shoes are. God’s desire for family runs much deeper than that.
Step 3: Figure out ways for you and your friends to foster community, especially if there is nothing yet in place where you live.
Start a book study that will bond you with a group of people. Start a small group with your church, either incorporating other singles or a mix of people of different family backgrounds and age groups. In those groups, go consider going beyond bible studies by asking good questions about each other’s lives and dreams and frustrations. Create a space where people can be vulnerable.
Something as simple as people talking about the high and low points of their weeks or letting one person tell 15 minutes of their life story each week fosters a feeling of community.
Other ideas that go beyond church are to start a community garden so you can meet your neighbors. Or you can start a weekly potluck, even one with no bible study attached to it, where you can invite friends and people who don’t yet know Jesus so you can build good relationships with them.
Personally, I would rather have covenant than independence. I’d rather make meals that take time and effort with my friends than eat a bowl of cereal, go to my room, and watch YouTube videos alone. I’d rather have a house that is full of love and companionship with a few dirty dishes in the sink than a perfectly ordered, spotless house with no one in it.
I’d rather have family.
It’s not good for us to be alone. No matter how much freedom we have when we are alone, it is not good. God himself said that.
It is good for us to be in a family, even if we have to build our own.