People have always been attracted to unity. Following a tragedy or disaster, the stories of people responding in unity often grab our hearts. Sports enthusiasts love the tales of a team coming together as a true team and not merely a collection of individuals. People long to belong, to be a part of something bigger than themselves.
God created us with this longing for unity. And He requires it from His people. In the hours leading up to His arrest, Jesus begged the Father for our unity. He prayed:
I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in Me through their message. May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me (John 17:20-21).
Jesus’ prayer is a huge statement of what He wants for His followers. He desires for His people to be as unified as He and the Father, reflecting the very character of God with our oneness. And because our unity reflects the nature of God, it is evangelistic. Earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus shared that all men would know we are His by the love we have for one another (John 13:35).
So wise ministry leaders preach and teach about the necessity of interdependent community with other believers. They work hard to cultivate a culture that values community. They strategize and put systems in place to move people to groups or classes. Deep down, they want their people to be the church, not merely come to church. They know that their church is only as strong as the groups in the church.
But as we long to foster healthy community, we must ask ourselves, “What are we uniting our people around?” As we build systems to attach people, what exactly are we attaching them to?
Community literally means common unity; therefore, a community is a group of people united around a common belief system or mission. The strength of a church’s community will only be as solid as the strength of what the people are united around.
In the same prayer where Jesus pleaded with the Father for our unity, He also prayed for His disciples to be made holy: “Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17). He wants us both unified and sanctified. Our oneness and our holiness are deeply related. When sin increases (gossip, pride, etc.), community suffers. As we are made holy, community deepens (love, patience, kindness, goodness, etc.).
And how are we made holy? “By the truth; Your word is truth.”
As community built on the truth of God deepens, so does the holiness of those in the community. In other words, uniting people around the Scripture is essential for the health of our community. Scripture must define our community, and we must hold Scripture as the common ground for our unity. We must build community around the holy text that endures forever (1 Peter 1:25), the living and active Word of God (Hebrews 4:12), that is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Ministries that attach people to one another without some expression of biblical study are creating an attachment that is too weak—and a community too shallow.