We live in a world that's becoming more and more connected. From Facebook to Twitter to texting, we are “closer” to each other than ever before. Smartphones and social networking provide instantaneous access to everyone from our neighbor across the street to the actor in Hollywood. But the dangerous irony is that this connectedness has also made us more isolated than ever before. Our garages allow us to drive directly into our houses without ever greeting our neighbor. Our Netflix subscriptions enable us to watch endless episodes of our favorite shows without ever going outside. This troubling reality has infiltrated the church, too. But like fish who have been swimming in the waters of individualism for too long, we barely even notice it. It's so easy to treat the church like a club where we show up once a week, get what we want, and then leave for lunch without reaching out to anyone.
God Is a Community
At the heart of all reality is a God who exists as a community. Before the creation of the world, the triune God was infinitely happy in himself. We catch a glimpse of this relationship when Jesus prays, “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:5). And this eternally divine community is also at work in our redemption. The Father lovingly sends the Son (John 3:16), the Son willingly bears our sin (John 10:18), and the Spirit effectively applies the Son's work to our hearts (Eph. 1:13). We serve an infinitely glorious triune God. The good news for you and me is that the community of the Trinity invites us in. Consider the apostle John's testimony: “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). John summons his hearers into fellowship with the Godhead, a fellowship he himself already enjoys. When you first trusted Christ, you were welcomed into the very triune community that worked together to unleash unspeakable grace in your life—the fulfillment of a plan launched in eternity past (Eph. 1:4).
Saved for Community
So God has invited us personally into the community of the Trinity. But here's the really mind-blowing thing: God intends us to experience this divine community in the fellowship of a local church (Eph. 3:18-19). He saves us as individuals, yes, but he also saves us into communities. We need other believers to draw us back into the fold when we've gone astray. Other believers need us to encourage and spur them on (Heb. 10:24). If we examine all the orders we're given in the New Testament, “one another” commands dominate the pages (Gal. 6:2; Rom. 12:10; 1 Thess. 5:11). Living in the community of the local church, then, is necessary—not optional—for your growth in grace. We simply cannot obey “one another” commands if we're not around, well, one another. The outside world needs to see this, too—a community of people living out Jesus' commands despite their vastly different personalities, music preferences, backgrounds, skin colors, economic statuses, and even football allegiances.
Different Kind of Community
For all we hear about the need for unity in diversity in our culture, the world divides over all sorts of issues. All you have to do is walk into a high school lunchroom and you'll see the world in miniature. Kids from the “right side of the tracks” sit in one place, while those from the “wrong side” sit elsewhere. Goths to the left, cheerleaders to the right. Blacks at one table, whites at another. Yet in the Trinity we see immaculate unity in diversity. God exists as one being in three persons, each with a distinct role in redemption. And his church, too, ought to reflect this glorious unity in diversity: red, yellow, black, and white; rich, poor, and middle class; old and young, cool and uncool—all united under the blood-bought banner of our common King. The world around us longs for community, and the false sense of connectedness created by Twitter and Facebook won't fill the void. We need robust, life-on-life, in-the-trenches community. God didn't merely “text us,” after all. He came. He walked with us, wept with us, rejoiced with us, and loved us in spite of ourselves. If we're embodying this self-giving posture in our churches, then, it'll draw the lonely world to us like a magnet. If this isn't the reality you experience at church, though, you're not alone.
Where Do We Go from Here?
The local church is messy. We've all experienced hurt and disappointment in it. And the head of the church understands, for he knows better than anyone the costliness of living in community. He entered this messy and broken world, and it killed him. For us to embrace real community will entail crucifixion, too. It'll mean dying to our desires, our preferences, our expectations. But on the other side of crucifixion, there's resurrection. We die to self now in order to enjoy true life forever (Matt. 16:25). So let's radically love the brother in Sunday school who drives us crazy. Let's invite into our homes the awkward sister no one else approaches. Let's walk into the sanctuary seeking to engage the visitor in conversation. Let's go beyond sports and weather and politics to discuss how the gospel intersects with our lives, our marriages, our families. The more this interaction happens in our churches, the more we will be drawn into the lavish love of the triune God.