We all have a desire to be in a thriving community, a place where people know us, a place that calls us to be fully ourselves, a people that we can call “our tribe”. Our hearts long to be within a community of people we can laugh and be adventurous with, while being creative, and experiencing God together. Community and relationship are a desire branded on our hearts and it echoes throughout all time and creation. It’s beautiful, challenging, passionate, messy, fulfilling, painful, and desperately needed in our daily lives. We all have a groaning in our hearts to go deep with people and develop strong bonds of friendship with like-minded people, but we don't always know how to arrive at that place.
Most people have experienced community in one form or fashion, some extremely positive and some extremely painful. If you’re human, you’re probably going to experience both. I have personally encountered and grown deeply in both. I know what it feels like to have strong community, and I know what it feels like to be extremely hurt by community. Where the pain cuts deep and all I wanted to do is just run away, move deep in the woods, be a hermit, grow a long beard, and live off the land. (And no, that’s not why I grew my beard). I know what it’s like to make excuses as to why I don't want to lean into developing deep friendships with people around me. I know what it feels like to be surrounded by people and yet still feel alone. I would rather face my giants and press into community than live with that feeling my whole life. If we have been hurt by people, the only thing that is going to heal us is the very thing that caused the pain in the first place, and that’s being in a good community of people.
While I was attending Bethel School of ministry in Redding, California, I experienced relationships in community that I didn't know existed. It was the most freeing and exhilarating time of my life. It was everything I desired since I was a child. Our group of tight-knit friends lived together, ministered together, traveled together, got whacked by God, and laid out on the floor together. I could tell story after story of the amazing things that God did in that time, but something happened that no one really expected to happen. We all moved away and over time, our relationships looked different. Yes we still had relationship, but the face to face changed along with the feeling of community and that’s when the deep need for relationships started to gnaw at my heart.
Ministry school set such a high watermark that every other community I entered into could never measure up. I hear so many other stories of people in the same place I was. I don't believe that God intended us to live this way, which means something needed to change in my heart. I had to start looking for and being intentional about finding community where I was planted, with the people around me, instead of making excuses like, “It’s just not the same”
Building community has to start somewhere, plain and simple. One thing I have learned in this process is I can’t hold people to my personal standards of how they should be. I had to let people be themselves, and that in itself, is beautiful. The reality is we can start building community with anyone no matter where they are in their spiritual walk. Look at Jesus. He hung out with rough fisherman, tax collectors, and prostitutes. None of them knew how to “act” religious. They usually got Him in trouble with the Pharisees for not living up to the watermark of that religious time in history. They didn’t obey the law properly, ate when they weren't suppose to, didn’t wash their hands, and were considered unclean, and they didn’t fast like all the other disciples were doing. Yet these same men and women changed the world. They were entrusted to carry the kingdom of God into all the earth. You see, Jesus looked past what others saw. He looked past all their failures and shortcomings and He saw greatness in them. It was in the process of community and relationship that He drew that greatness out.
I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be in Jesus’ inner circle when He was on earth. They shared experiences that shaped their lives. Yes, they had their moments. Jesus had to be up front and firm with them at times. He even rebuked Peter and told him he was acting like the devil. And yes, sometimes the disciples argued over who was the greatest. One of them even chose to betray one of their closest friends. I’m sure that was painful to walk through. However, they also shared experiences like being invited into the house alone with Jesus when he raised a young girl from the dead. That is something they would never have seen, if they had been content with being lost in the crowd.
The disciples also experienced together what it was like to be sent out into the villages to pray for the sick, cast out demons, and preach the gospel. The bonds that they created from those trips would have been so strong. When they came back, I imagine they would have all sat around the campfire and shared all the wonderful things they had seen. There must have been some belly gut laughter that happened that night, as they all shared their crazy revival bloopers, something that could have only been experienced in the realm of community.
This is where we truly grow. Being a lone ranger is only for the movies. It’s in community that we are protected and have someone to watch our backs. Growth is forged in the fire of community and sharpened by the iron of another. The Kingdom of God is a family, and its by our love and connection with each other that the world will know that we are God’s kids. (John 13:34-35)
If you are struggling with finding community around you, I want to give you some easy steps to get you started on your journey to discovering community. Here are 10 practical ways to start building and having deep, meaningful relationships around you.
1. No excuses. We will always be too busy, have no time, be tired, or have too many shows to watch on Netflix. No more excuses, start building relationships today.
2. Do things that push you outside of your comfort zone. Get out of your normal routine and join a home group, hobby group, or local sports team. Start serving in your local church, or go on a mission trip.
3. Choose to be vulnerable, real, and open. People want to experience you, not a made up Facebook version of you. Being you is better.
4. Find some people you really look up to and pursue relationship with them. You become like the people you hang out with most. Get good people in your friend circle.
5. Don’t let your high watermarks of amazing communities you have experienced in the past stop you from building new ones. There are lots of great people around you. Get to know them.
6. If you want to have friends, you have to be friendly. (NKJV Proverbs 18:24) Put a smile on, and meet new people!
7. Pray and ask God to highlight people He wants you to build relationship with. There are so many times when God has led me to people, and through our friendship they have helped mold my life. God cares about your friendships. Just ask Him, and He will tell you the same thing.
8. Let God be your source. Get filled up, so you can be a life giver and bring your whole self to the table of community.
9. Be committed. Relationships take time to develop. No one-night stands.
10. Have lots of fun! If you’re not having fun, then you’re doing it wrong.