The practice of Christian community, quite simply, makes the gospel a lived reality. It embodies a specific, personal way of life together in Christ. It strengthens us to live the life to which we are called; it conveys God’s life and power to the world at large. And it is necessary.

God never intended for any of us to live the Christian life alone. The Christian community should be viewed biblically. The Bible’s original word for “church” is ekklesia, Greek for “assembly” or “gathering.” This word took on the theological meaning of “all Christians” in some contexts and of “local gatherings of believers” in other places. (Acts 2:42-47)reveals that the original “Christian community” was known primarily for its devotion to Christ’s teachings and its love for one another. Viewed this way, the Christian community is simply those who love Jesus and live in fellowship with each other. When the world sees this in action, they will see the true love of Jesus and perhaps find themselves attracted to Christ, too.

Community moves us beyond the self-interested isolation of private lives and beyond the superficial social contacts that pass for “Christian fellowship.” The biblical ideal of community challenges us instead to commit ourselves to life together as the people of God.

Christian community is the place of our continuing conversion. Its goal is that, individually and together, we should become mature, no longer knocked around by clever religious hucksters, but able to stand tall and straight, embodying the very “fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-16).

The community helps us grow as it becomes a workshop for prayer and worship. Both by instruction and by example, the New Testament teaches us to pray and to pray for one another (Eph. 6:18, Jas. 5:16). We are called as well to a life of worship and praise. Yet, our experiences of prayer and worship in the church often shunt us toward merely watching others pray and take active roles in worship. As helpful as those experiences may be, being spectators simply isn’t enough. We ourselves need to pray for each other. Each of us needs to be prayed for personally. And the small community is the place where we can experiment and learn the life of prayer.

The community is also where we learn to strip away our self-interest in order to serve others. It is here that we learn to share what God has given us, whether it be goods or spiritual gifts. It is also here that we learn to be served, though we are sometimes prideful and reluctant like Peter, who balked at Jesus washing his feet (Jn. 13:2-10). Sometimes we are the washers and sometimes the washees, but in many ordinary ways we can learn what submission and service mean.

The practice of Christian community, quite simply, makes the gospel a lived reality. It embodies a specific, personal way of life together in Christ. It strengthens us to live the life to which we are called; it conveys God’s life and power to the world at large. And it is necessary.

When we imagine that we, as Christians and humans, can live in total independence and self-sufficiency, we are deluding ourselves. God, from the beginning, never intended that we should go through the world “alone.” We simply cannot experience fully the power and delight of life with God without also being drawn into life together with our sisters and brothers in Christ. Without experiencing such life together, we will not discover how wonderful the news about Jesus really is.

Community is not to be feared, but welcomed. The risks don’t go beyond those it takes to follow Jesus. The reward is to enter into life as God intended it to be lived from the beginning. How can we balk at an offer like that?