While I write on a variety of subjects and interests, recently, I have narrowed my theological focus to community. I have been walking with several words and ideas for years now. They have only had a place in my head though talking it out on paper has been my practice. Honestly, I am waiting for persons of common belief and calling to join the conversation. Some days, I wonder if they will come or if I will continue talking to myself.
But, I am also listening for what is really being said, waiting for the right words to come alongside me. It’s not the right time—because this or that is not the right word. And then came community.
Piecing together a path has slowed my pace. I wanted to be farther along. Signing books by now. Speaking before crowds. All of it is vanity. The wind of the Spirit blows when it chooses. I am not in charge of inspiration.
Finding my footing and my place in Christ’s ministry has received much of my attention, energy and time. Community seems to capture the pressing conviction and the goal. Now, I feel as if I am working towards something—not simply working on something. The word seems simple enough but its actualization is complicated, which is to suggest that it is more elaborate in meaning than we could ever imagine.
Community is not a quick fix or an easy answer and yet, it is the fix and the answer.
The Greek word for community is koinonia. Whatever your preference, whether English or Greek, it is not a place but a practice. Community, communion, common. Having all things in common, we are in fellowship.
But, fellowship is not a hall. Fellowship is more than food and drinks, more than chatting and chewing. Fellowship is a state of being, a kind of relationship. Fellowship, community or communion, we share in common Christ’s body of which we are all members.
Fellowship is what was described in the Acts of the Apostles: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (2.42-47, NRSV).
And this fellowship, this community is what the church has been to me during my formative and adult years. Not to be confused with a clique or faction, I am talking about a group of people that covenant together for a common cause and conviction. For me, it has been transformation. I want the witness and words of Christ to change me—not my clothing, not my bank statement or my mailing address but my mind.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, “Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God— what is good and acceptable and perfect” (12.2, NRSV). George Bernard Shaw, playwright and critic, said many years later, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” Anything. If there would be progress, then there must be change. If we are to move closer to each other and to Christ, then we must change—not the other person, not Christ but ourselves.
Also, conformed to the world or a transformed community, it is the mind that enables us to know God’s will— not our socioeconomic class or cultural traditions. We will not know the kingdom of God or what it means to build God’s kingdom on earth if we are not open to a change of mind. But, it is God who changes our minds and for divine purposes. It is God’s will that is good, acceptable and perfect.
I think that my mind is being renewed, transformed, changed and I am seeing the world in a new way. I understand now that God’s kingdom is about community building—not a church building. It’s about sharing those things we have in common, both in religious confession and social condition. It’s not about committee meetings but meeting each other as we are with hands ready to give, receive and build each other up. This is a much- needed change in our thinking and being in the world.
Community. Communion. Commune. Fellowship.