This is an adapted excerpt from Jeremy Linneman’s eBook Life-Giving Groups: ‘How-To’ Grow Healthy, Multiplying Community Groups (Sojourn Network, 2017).
Simple is in right now. Simple food. Simple banking. Real Simple.
And, full disclosure, I’m all in on the Simple Movement. I’ve simplified my daily routine, my clothing, and our house. But thinking about all this has led me to an eternally relevant discovery: Biblical community simplifies our lives more than anything else.
Too often I think, I don’t have time for more relationships. I’m too busy already. But this hasn’t proven true. Instead, neglecting biblical community has, counterintuitively, made my life more complicated and needlessly difficult.
How does biblical community simplify our lives? It focuses and limits them so we can grow in grace together.
Are You Fully Human?
Our life rhythms must recognize and reflect a basic truth: We are relational beings made in the image of the relational Triune God.
If you think about it, Jesus was never not in relationship. As God the Son he eternally existed in the loving fellowship of the Trinity. When he came into this world he entered a normal human family, spent his childhood and early adulthood in obscurity, then started his ministry by inviting others to follow him. On the eve of his crucifixion, he gathered for a meal with his disciples, then led them out to pray with him at Gethsemane. With his final breaths, he instructed John to care for his mother.
On occasion, Jesus left his disciples to pray in solitude, but in general, Jesus did everything with this ragtag bunch of guys. His life and mission demonstrate that even he didn’t live in isolation. If relationships have always been essential to the Son of God, shouldn’t they be for us as well?
You cannot become fully human without community.
We, like him, exist for relationships. We were created in the image of this Triune God, so to be fully alive means to live in relationships. If Jesus is history’s most “fully alive” human, it shouldn’t surprise us that we cannot become fully human without community. We were crafted for community.
Contemporary research has confirmed this: More than any single human need, such as self-esteem or personal autonomy, human beings most fundamentally need a place to belong. A person without a family or small group of friends will struggle throughout life and never become whole.
Why So Difficult?
So if we are relational beings, created for community, why are relationships so hard? Beyond the reality that we are sinners living in a broken world, what makes community so difficult?
We are busy, overcommitted, and dis-integrated.
The issue is not busyness; it’s that our lives are increasingly superficial.
As our lives speed ahead, we sigh, “I’m so busy,” or “Life’s just crazy right now.” Or we say, “It’s just a busy season.” But the seasons last for years, the nominal relationships pile up, and we become a mile wide and an inch deep.
In former generations, people used to belong to a few relational circles: family was one circle, work was another, and church another. In all, a person had five or six total circles, and there was a good deal of overlap between them—perhaps 100 to 200 individuals total, and all within walking distance.
But just think of the circles we try to manage today:
- Family in town
- Extended family out of town
- Old high-school friends
- College friends
- Former co-workers
- Social media
And there’s little overlap—each circle is a disconnected grouping of people with just one or two things in common. Not to mention many of these “circles” are actually multiple circles. Many of us have multiple teams we sit on at work. Even our kids have one or more relational circles—school, youth sports, and so on. And social media are like an ever-expanding circle.
The issue is not busyness; it’s that our lives are increasingly superficial. Whereas former generations managed four to six interconnected circles, the average individual today manages 40 to 50 disconnected circles. As a result, we carry the anxiety of managing relationships with 1,000 to 2,000 individuals. How could we possibly live in real relationships with this many people, across dozens of circles? How could we possibly feel our life is simple, integrated, or even manageable?
Whereas someone in former generations managed four to six interconnected circles, someone today manages 40 to 50 disconnected circles.
No wonder our culture is an inch deep and a mile wide. We are drowning in busyness and superficiality.
Pursue Simple, Biblical Community
Because we were created for community, human flourishing—growth in Christ and true joy—is found only in tight, Christ-shaped relationships. You will never be happy and fully human apart from biblical community.
Think about it like this: No one gets to the end of their life and wishes they had a few dozen more superficial relationships. No one wishes they’d served on one more board or spent an extra 100 hours in the car eating fast food and shuttling toddlers to more soccer practices. No one gets to the end of their life and says, “I should have just mindlessly plowed through more days and months and years.”
No, it’s always: “I wish I had invested more quality time in the people closest to me: my spouse, my kids, my church family.”
Simple, biblical community focuses and centers our lives by honoring our relational design, by limiting how many other activities and relationships we can pursue, and by offering true fellowship and accountability in the context of intentional relationships.