“PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS CHRIST . . .”
This phrase is used countless times each weekend when churches gather for worship across the United States and around the world. And while such wording is helpful in describing the intimacy of our fellowship with God, it is only part of the truth—because it neglects the reality that God’s design is for believers to be deeply connected in community with other followers of Christ. If not carefully explained, this phrase could give the impression that the Christian faith is private— “just between you and God.” For while our faith is indeed very personal, it is definitely not private. Private Christian faith is an oxymoron, like “white chocolate,” “jumbo shrimp,” and “ACC football.” (Sorry.)
You have been individually saved by Christ, but you are not the only individual saved. God has always been building a people for Himself—a family of faith that unites across the dividing lines of race, nationality, politics, and economics. God Himself exists in community as Father, Son, and Spirit. And out of that divine community flows His design for humans to be involved in relationships with each other. He started with Adam and Eve, progressed to the nation of Israel, and now has established and is building His Church. Every tribe, tongue, nation, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status come together in this covenant body, declaring the praises of God and making much of Jesus Christ.
Since the day Adam searched for a suitable helper, people have always longed for community. So it would seem our era is a great one in which to live, seeing as how connectivity is so much easier now than it’s ever been. Facebook currently claims more than 900 million active users who visit their social networking site at least once a month. Thanks to Twitter, we can constantly bombard each other with even the most boring details of our everyday lives. You can take a picture of the sampler you ordered at Applebee’s, and then tweet it to all your friends so they can be jealous of your potato skins. Technology has enabled humanity to be more connected, more informed, and more social than at any other time in history.
But connectivity does not equate to community. Being able to make quick connections with people doesn’t automatically require any depth to the relationship.
All you have to do is take a look inside your local Starbucks to see something strange going on in the midst of all these “connections.” Starbucks was founded to be a gathering place for relationships. Sure, they serve a million combinations of coffee and pastries, but it was also intended as a place where people could get their coffee not “to go” but to stay. And stay together. Starbucks was built to capitalize on the intrinsic human desire to relate.
But as you look into your local Starbucks, notice that many people are in there—together in one place—but they’re also alone. They’re sitting at tables with their headphones on, working on their computers or fiddling with their phones. Not that it’s the fault of Starbucks. This “all alone, all together” phenomenon is merely symptomatic of what’s at play in human relationships throughout our culture.
So although we are more connected than we’ve ever been, we also feel more alone and unknown than at any other time in human history. We relate without relationships, all together but all alone. Thus, without the gospel forming community, we are doomed to connectivity and aloneness in the midst of crowds. Only the gospel forms deep community.
Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson, and I are posting questions each month for church leaders to discuss with their teams. The content and questions are based on our book Creature of the Word. You can get the book here and access the monthly audit here.