I have always loved living in community. I did not realize until recently that I have lived in some type of intentional community situation for most of my life. I grew up as a missionary kid, living in various islands in the Caribbean. In each place, my parents made a special effort to stay connected to both the local church community and the ex-patriot missions community. When we came home occasionally to the USA, we lived here at the headquarters of CLC, which is a missionary community campus.
Going off to college allowed me to experience community on my own. There I met my spouse, and we began to develop our own ideas of community. As a young adult couple, we lived in a typical suburban community—first in a townhouse setting and then in a single-family home.
Much to my surprise, starting a family of my own in a community that lived together as closely as we did in our townhouses did not infer the sense of genuine community I had grown up with. Without realizing it, we worked hard at our jobs, came home exhausted and began to become more isolated than I realized was possible in such close living quarters. When we moved into our first single-family home in a different neighborhood, we did not know what to expect.
Ironically, God had a unique plan in place for us as we got to know our neighbors. They went out of their way to create genuine community on that street. One neighbor suggested that five families buy a snow blower together, and we did. (Somehow, though, I think this was a secret plot for him to enjoy his new “toy,” since often when it snowed, he had cleared our sidewalk before we even got out of bed.) My wife joined a women’s Bible study across the street, and the ladies prayed for our very sick son who then began to get well. We knew that the people on our street cared about us and each other in a real and deep way.
As I reflect on my life in community, several principles jump out at me:
1. Real, genuine community does not happen by accident. Just living in close proximity to other people did not lead to deeper relationships. I had to step out into the “danger zone,” become vulnerable and invite people into my life, as messy as it was and is.
2. Experiencing life WITH other people can be a catalyst for developing community in almost any living situation. When I was in college, I remember doing a ten-day missions trip to Appalachia over spring break one year. Living life together, cooking meals, cleaning up and doing physical labor as a team brought us together and bonded us in a unique way.
3. Meals together can set the tone for growing relationships. Making a meal with or for other people is a great way to foster community. Eating with people does something for the soul. It just seems harder for me to stay mad at someone when I eat with them. More often than not, I find out something about another person over a meal that I would not learn in any other way. (Maybe I listen better with food in my mouth and the inability to say anything profound at that particular moment.)
4. Serving others is a great way to initiate new community initiatives and restore broken community situations. It is hard for me to stay isolated from someone when I get out of my comfort zone and serve them in some way without any expectation of reward. This habit is something I do not practice enough, but it has been deeply satisfying when I have.
5. Life in isolation is not how God designed us to live. When I look at Jesus’ life, I notice that He did not live life alone. He grew up in a family that loved and cared for Him, and then He led a team of twelve disciples for three years. They did everything together and modeled community in a profound way.
As I grow older each day, I realize how short life really is. I hope I will always value community and the people that God has me “doing” life with. These relationships are of real value and bring true contentment.