“The Son of Man came to serve, not be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for the many who are held hostage.”
– Jesus (Matthew 20:28 MSG)
I ran into a man recently who told me he was having trouble finding community in the church. Trying to find a group of people to belong to was proving more difficult than he had imagined. It is difficult for many people to find the sense of belonging that they long for in a large Sunday morning experience, and for good reason.
Large crowds are not where you are going to find real relationships.
My guess is that most people would prefer a backyard cookout, a sporting event tailgate, a day at the lake with buddies from work, a night at the local bar, a ladies night out, or a fellas cigar and poker night as their place for building relationships and community before attending a church service or a small group Bible study. And then they will be made to feel guilty if they are finding relationships in these places outside of church activities.
But churches will often focus on creating small groups where people can just “plug in” and get to the hard business of relationships. Again, this is not a bad start.. but there is a need for something different. A way to connect with people that isn’t forced, coerced, or intrusive. An in-between place where people can know and be known, but also can get outside of themselves.
I’m finding that the vast majority of people out here in the real world are not used to church potlucks and intense conversations about Bible books. Most people don’t want to go real deep, real fast in the beginning… especially with church people and here’s why. They don’t trust them. We can talk about the reasons for this at a different time, but for our purpose today, I want to get to offer a third way beyond church services and small groups.
Why can’t you find belonging in a group? What is the reason churches struggle with retaining people? What is the one reason most people can’t find community?
Most people don’t serve.
Alan Hirsch, author of The Forgotten Ways, is a leading voice in what has been dubbed the “missional” movement in the church worldwide. Hirsch coined a term that I believe is important for us to know and understand. The term is “communitas“. It is the idea of community that is formed around a shared ordeal or mission.
The best, deepest, most intimate relationships you will ever forge will happen in the context of some kind service, ordeal, or mission with and to others.
Serving people together with other people is the answer to the belonging problem.
Here are six side-effects of Communitas .
1. Communitas Tests Motives. Serving people shines a light on your true motive behind serving. It makes you vulnerable to being seen for who you really are. But vulnerability is actually a good thing. Being vulnerable brings out in the open your true heart, and only when your true heart is exposed, can it truly change and your motives become pure.
2. Communitas Decreases Selfishness. Serving people requires getting outside of yourself. You cannot serve and be selfish at the same time. You will know very quickly how arrogant you appear when you serve selfishly. Serving people creates a sense that there is more to life than just your world.
3. Communitas Increases Proximity. Serving people increases the closeness you have to the needs of people. It opens your eyes and brings awareness and perspective to you that you didn’t have before, when you were distant. Serving people gives you eyes to see the needs around you and helps you begin thinking of ways you can meet those needs, one person at a time.
4. Communitas Forces Intentionality. You cannot see needs and remain unchanged. Serving people forces you to become very intentional about the use of your time, your resources, your money, your relationships, etc. You will become much more serious about finding practical ways to meet needs rather than just posting your frustrations on Facebook about all the needs that are going unmet.
5. Communitas Creates Community. Serving people gets you around other people who care about people. Sitting in a Bible Study or small group is important, but if your study of the Bible and your conversation with people of faith doesn’t motivate you to get out and actually practice your faith, then your Bible Study and small group isn’t working. You can’t hear the message of God and remain unmoved. It will create active participation in the Kingdom. Start serving and look around you. There is your community group. Serving right alongside you.
6. Communitas Imitates Jesus. The goal of life is to be like Jesus, in everything. He is the Master, we are the apprentices. If Jesus, the Creator, Savior, Son, and King felt that his mission was not to be served but to serve… then we should follow his example too. We aren’t here for us. We are here for others. You are never more like Jesus than when you serve and give your life so others can be set free.
I wonder, are you having difficulty finding a sense of belonging among church people? Are you an outsider wanting in but not really knowing how to begin?
I would suggest that you begin by looking for a group of people who are actively serving the city you are in regularly, and begin joining that group immediately. Get your hands dirty… loving, caring for, and serving the needs of the least of these. And then look around you. You’ll find the friends and community you are looking for right next to you. And then your need for community will be met.
Serve first, then watch community form.