Twelve men. Eating, sleeping, serving, laughing and crying together. Learning and growing and depending on each other. Showing the absolute worst side of themselves in front of each other. Correcting and encouraging. Betraying and forgiving. The relationship that the disciples had with each other and with Jesus is an impressive display of what community looks like. Jesus asked a lot of the disciples: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”. Meaning that if they wanted to be with him they had to make a commitment. If they wanted a part of this strong and lasting community they had to be all in. So how can we emulate this ultimate example of community in our relationships? There are six elements that can help us develop this type of community.
Constant. Commitment is not swayed by what is going on in your life at the moment. It is making phone calls even when you are busy. It is sending a text even when your life feels like chaos. It’s holding on to a friendship even when you feel that you have been wronged. It is making it work even when you move away from each other. It is continuing to pursue someone when they drop their end of the friendship. It means not backing away when things get difficult. They didn’t always get it exactly right but through the three years of Christ’s ministry on earth, the disciples stuck to their commitment to follow him. And, in the end, those who stayed true to their promise benefited greatly from that.
Exhausting. Galatians 6:9 tells us, “Let us not grow weary in doing good for in due season we will reap if we do not give up.” Investing in the lives of other people is an example of the “good” we are asked specifically to do in this verse and throughout the Bible. Loving other people is not an easy task. True commitment is wearisome and frustrating, it is not always what you feel like doing. There are times you will feel totally drained by the burdens of other people but you will reap the benefits of true community if you do not give up.
Inconvenient. A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. (Proverbs 17:17). Community doesn’t always fit perfectly into your schedule. Taking food to a friend isn’t always on the way. It isn’t always convenient to have a long chat with someone who lost a loved one. It’s not always easy to spend a little extra time helping someone move. But it is in those moments that true community is born.
A Choice. Commitment doesn’t just happen. If you commit to running in a marathon you have to choose everyday to get out and train. You have to choose every moment to keep running. You have to choose to practice and eat right and show up for the race. You can’t make a commitment and expect the rest of it to fall into place. It is a moment by moment combination of choices. Commitment in order to form community is the same. You can’t just say you are going to do it and then go on with your life. You have to choose every day to do things differently.
Planned. In my last post I encouraged all those type-A people to destroy their planners if their need for a schedule is keeping them from ministering to people. But the reverse can be true of those who do not plan at all. Stacks of invitations without replies, neglected appointments, constantly saying maybe to anything you are asked to do, waiting around to see if something better comes along and never showing up for important events can all keep you from truly building into the lives of those around you. There has to be a balance. Your schedule cannot rule you but you also should not be so disorganized that you do not have time for other people. Your top priority should always be the needs of others.
Narrow. In an age where we can be measured by the number of Facebook friends we have, it is easy to begin to feel as if quantity is far better than quality when it comes to relationships. As Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” It is hard to build a solid, strong relationship with 3,000 people. There is a reason there were 12 disciples and not 100. Community comes through closeness and it is hard to be close with a crowd. To form community, it is better to invest deeply in a few close friends than to graze shallowly over every person you know.
Community can be developed out of commitment if its members are willing to stick together and focus on each other. It may take planning. You may end up exhausted. It may be inconvenient. But over time you will develop a small group that remains constantly bonded.