Community – Part 3

Definition of Community

This article picks up on the previous community post, which essentially stated that community finds its foundation in God. God–three Persons, yet one Substance–dwells in perfect community, and extends to humanity the privelege of modeling one’s life after His example. With that being said, what this article focuses on is defining community. It’s easy to see things from different angles, and so it helps to present one angle (definition) that can be observed, critiqued, and applied effectively. But, as soon as we try to define community we run into problems…

Some define community as:

A gathering of friends over food…

Or…people who like to do the same things…

Or…those who look, act, and dress alike…

Or…people who like to have fun together…

Or…even a gathering of folks who help those who can’t help themselves…

It’s safe to say that defining community can be hard depending on the person you’re talking to. Some may say that it’s some of the things mentioned above, but it’s also others. And so, community becomes this hard to define term, and therefore hard to apply concept. Can you relate? So, having an understanding of something outside the term–a guiding principle–will help gratify a desire in a defining of the term. With that being said, let’s begin with a quote that sets the stage for an ideal within community…

“We may suffer the sins of our brother; we do not need to judge. This is a mercy for the Christian; for when does sin ever occur in the community that he must not examine and blame himself for his own unfaithfulness in prayer and intercession, his lack of brotherly service, of fraternal reproof and encouragement — indeed, for his own personal sin and spiritual laxity, by which he has done injury to himself, the fellowship, and the brethren? Since every sin of a member burdens and indicts the whole community, the congregation rejoices, in the midst of all the pain and the burden that the brother’s sin inflicts, that it has the privilege of bearing and forgiving.”

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

This quote lays, in my opinion, the framework for a working definition of community. That is to say, in the life of any Christian, community is all-together different than how the person who has no concern for the things of God might describe it. In other words, the Christian’s view of community provides the answer to mankind’s most basic needs–something the world fails to offer.

What are mankind’s most basic needs?

  • Emotional Needs
    • Connecting with similar interests
    • Support in times of weakness

Often, we find ourselves entering into a friendship or community group with others because of an emotional connection. The people just like doing the same things or they are from the same background. For example, one person who loves to go camping might say that they find it hard to enjoy community with a group of individuals who spend most of their conversation critiquing musical scales. Or another person might not emotionally connect with a group of people whose first language is not their first language, or whose birth-culture does not relate to their birth-culture. You get the point. The problem with building relationships around emotional needs is that inevitably the initial connections fade when the person rubs you the wrong way.

Therefore, merely meeting emotional needs cannot sustain community, we’re just too fickle and easily distracted.

  • Physical Needs
    • Survival–food, water, shelter, clothing, and protection
    • Fundamental–exchange of equipment, labor, ideas, and energy

Please forgive the oversimplification here, but to drive this point I must…For most of history people rarely left their village or geographic area. There was within any village or population center a clear understanding of who did what, and there was not much questioning why you did what you did. For example, if a young boy’s father was a carpenter, then he was expected to learn the trade and do the same. However, all the while there was–generally speaking–a need to help one’s neighbor. In other words, due to technological constraints people were more confined, and therefore more physically dependent on one-another to accomplish their desires, wants, and survival and fundamental needs. Bedroom communities and suburbs did not exist back then ;). Let’s fast forward to today.

We understand the physical need concept. For some, you can still relate to physical needs being met in your lifetime, and as a result you probably experience strong ties within those relationships. I can personally relate to this from high school football. It doesn’t matter how much time has passed between seeing my football buddies, we pick up right where we left off. The reason? Because we bled together, sweat together, won together, lost together, cried together, and worked hard together. We needed each other physically to accomplish a goal of winning, and as a result forged a very tight bond, but it can still fade. Military folks relate to this as well. Mission trips can have a similar effect on relationships too. The bottom line, however, is that merely physically meeting needs only goes so far. The problem is, however, at some point you move away, you get distracted with life, and find you a bedroom community to shut the garage door, hire a technician, plumber, or carpenter–whom you don’t know, but who is willing to accept your cash–and you close the door as he leaves your house, and the gap widens as a selfishness of time gives way to outsourced relationships void of a reciprocal meeting of one-another’s needs.

Therefore, merely meeting physical needs cannot sustain community, we’re just too selfish.

  • Spiritual Needs
    • Acceptance and accountability
    • Forgiveness and bearing up
    • Commitment and love

This realm of needs is where most fear to trod. Human nature resists someone getting in their craw. We just don’t like to be corrected. Furthermore, human nature likes to be around those who look like them, talk like them, walk like them, dress like them, and look at life like them. The reason? It’s easier to control. We feel like we’re losing control when we get around others who are different than us, and if we don’t connect on an emotional level, we don’t help each other out physically, then there is a very slim chance that a spiritual need will ever be met. This is a tragedy of epic proportions.


Because, the meeting of spiritual needs is where true community is forged. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where someone moves passed enjoying camping together or talking football to actually seeing another person as Christ sees them–either a child of the King or in the greatest need to becoming a child of the King. I think Bonhoeffer nails the ideal of community in his quote above. It’s being able to look at a brother or sister in Christ and with acceptance, forgiveness, and commitment being willing to bear them up for their good and God’s glory.

So that’s it. There’s our definition of community…

Community. The place or group or gathering where emotional, physical, and spiritual needs are met in reciprocal relationships forged in a willingness and commitment to journey through life together.

May Christ be honored through our living in community…

— February 2, 2018