Community is a buzz word right now. The isolation, reported loneliness, and higher teen suicide rate that we suffered during the pandemic tell us we need community. But what exactly is community? Because according to Ecclesiastes, God thinks we should have it.
“Two people are better than one. They can help each other in everything they do.” Ecclesiastes 4:9
Community, leadership, teamwork, cooperation, and world-changing – you know these words as “corporate virtues”. Guess what – these are not virtues at all. They are friendly, non-threatening ways to get what you want, usually power. Compare them to the Biblical virtues of patience, kindness, self-control, mercy.
Here is a test for a virtues I learned from Josh Gibbs: If you want your enemy to have it, it is a virtue. Think of an enemy; Do you want your enemy to form strong community, team work, leadership, and world changing? Sound a little like communism or Nazi Germany? Could be pretty dangerous – for you. It is code for having your own way, for the limited resource of power. Back in Genesis we have the Tower of Babel where God told his people to disperse and they used cooperation to try and thwart God’s plan and build a tower to reach God Himself on their own terms.
Now would you wish that same enemy to be kind, self-controlled, merciful? Humble, wise, and patient?Starting to understand how we have misused community? These are not bad things. But they are not virtues, and they can be misused.
St. Augustine, in City of God defines a community as “common agreement as to the objects of their love.” A group that gets together is not enough to be a community. The group has to have a shared love. And what it loves tells us a lot about that community. The New Testament gives us by far the coolest example of community in Acts 2, where the entire church was eating and praying together every day, meeting each other’s needs.
1 Corinthians 12:25-27 says, ”That there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” Real community, like the body of Christ, with the shared love of Jesus, means suffering with those who suffer. Like Jesus, we disadvantage ourselves for others. This is how community flourishes. Not just any “community” will do. The community you build for your family will have a positive influences if it is built on a shared love of Christ, and relates to one another with love. How do we build it?
Let’s start with teens. What is the first thing you wanted to do when you turned 16? Get a driver’s license? Things have changed. Only 25% of eligible teens get their drivers license at 16 and half of them don’t have it by 18. There are economic factors at work here, but much more of that has to do with anxiety. Teens will rarely admit though, if they even understand, that the feeling of not being in control is at issue. Their community is on-line, internet and almost completely controllable. A real loving community of family, church, school, friend’s parents, are the solution. This is one small example. We are limiting our kids options if we let them stay stuck in a fake on-line community.
Even actual communities are so easy to opt out of these days:
“The modern conception of community, which seems to involve little more than the individual being affirmed in all of his idiosyncratic demands. When that doesn’t happen, he moves on to find more ‘genuine’ community. In other words, community must not cost us anything – which is to say, we do not actually want community. We want our individualism affirmed by people who are already like us.” Brian Philips in The Community We Need But May Not Want
I had a senior in high school in the middle of the pandemic. I saw what happened to my daughter’s friends that graduated in that previous May. They were denied the one rite of passage to adulthood that we have firmly in tact in our society, high school graduation. Our teens are dying of loneliness and there is no excuse for it.
Rites of passage are community events. These are the milestones our teens measure their adulthood and their worth to our society by for decades now. They are special and they are necessary. They are biblical. The bar mitzvah meant you were a man, from ancient biblical times. If you have elementary age kids, start thinking now about what you can do, with your community, to mark these momentous occasions. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it must be a sacrifice of some sort in order for your child to understand the important to you.
Have the reputation as the party people, celebrating milestones, maturity, and real accomplishments. Joining the church was a big deal in our family. So was baptism, awards, met goals – like earning a black belt and receiving a Congressional Award (which is a great program to look into for teens). What is important to your family? Involve your community in your shared love.
The goal of community is to love one another. This is how the world knows the we are the followers of Christ. And this is how our children know how to follow Jesus. This bonds our family, our church community, the communities we build based on things we love that are good, beautiful, and true. We draw others into our loving communities bound by the shared love of Jesus and those around us.
What milestones can you celebrate?
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