Living in community has transformed my life.
Community constantly encourages me in my walk with Jesus. It is there to support me in hard times and celebrate with me in the joyful ones. It has become a key part of my daily life. The strength of being surrounded by friends that I call “family" makes it possible to do what I do.
One of the biggest struggles after I completed my Discipleship Training School (DTS) was leaving such a solid community environment. These were the people with whom I discovered God - lived, wept and laughed with during an amazing time in my life. Moving back home was not the easiest transition for me to make. It was challenging to do life without the positive influence of the culture in which I had been living. As hard as it was, I learned something very important in this season.
Community should not and does not exist only in a YWAM circle. Community can be, and really should be, everywhere. It is an essential part of the body of Christ. As believers, we may feel lost as to how to create community and we often rely on someone else to do it for us. But taking the challenge on personally to build a community is so worth the effort and may often be the only way it will actually happen. Here are some thoughts to help you cultivate a healthy community around you:
Firstly, start with your church. Sunday service is great, but you need more than that. See if your church has small groups. If so, join them. If not, start one. You’re not the only one that desires community; it's a desire on the hearts of many. Be bold and initiate by taking that necessary first step.
You don’t have to be the same age, gender or background as others. Change it up and learn from one another. Before my DTS, I spent time going to church with my grandparents. We attended a large Baptist church and stayed for the Sunday School hour as well. I was surprised to discover that I actually enjoyed getting to know a group of people over the age of 60 that loved the Lord! We didn’t always relate on certain topics or experiences, but I had the opportunity to learn so much from them. In Hebrews 10:24 it says, “And let us spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” If nothing else draws you together, find some people that want to grow closer to God in the same way you do. That can be your simple beginning.
A second way to cultivate community is to get together with some roommates or housemates. Living with other believers can be so beneficial. In Psalm 133 it says, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” Part of the reason we have such a tight-knit community in Youth With A Mission is because we live and experience life together every day. It's not always the easiest experience to live with roommates, but it's a great opportunity from which we can learn.
In my School of Ministry Development I had seven roommates and we lived in a tiny dorm together. For sure, morning-time in one bathroom for eight girls is not ideal, but I learned so much from each personality in this kind of situation. I gained a fresh perspective on loving people, even when the conditions are not the easiest or most natural. One of my favorite parts was on Monday nights when we had “roomie nights.” I would buy dessert, we would put blankets on the ground and spend time talking and getting to know one another better. We shared our dreams, experiences, prayer requests and anything in between.
We would also start our mornings together. At a specific time, we’d gather together and pray for one another and the day. It was so encouraging to start each day this way, surrounded by others who wanted Jesus. From there we would split off to spend our own personal time with Jesus. Being accountable to each other helped me to learn the discipline of starting the day with God and continuing in His Presence all day long. I am so grateful for that!
A third idea is to find a specific hangout spot and invest in getting to know people there. My immediate go-to spot is a coffee shop. Become a regular and get to know the employees and other consistent customers.
There’s a fantastic coffee shop about fifteen minutes away from the YWAM campus. Through going there to get drinks, study, or work on projects, I’ve been able to meet and connect with people. I know some of the baristas well and can chat with them each time. I also have the chance to get to know other regulars. These relationships continue to grow and I’m finding a community there in which I’m welcome at any time.
Finally, be sure to have patience and grace when cultivating community. It will never be the same; it’s always changing, growing, and organic. It won’t be immediate. It won’t be completely fulfilling; only Jesus fills us. It won’t be perfect or flawless; despite being redeemed humans, we all sin. There have been numerous times, even in the past few months, when I’ve damaged great friendships within my community. When I recognize this, I repent and begin the rebuilding process. Walking in a state that requires constant humility and honesty is a vital and healthy part of life!
“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” Acts 2:46
Once you’ve established this kind of community, you can be there for one another. When I’m homesick and simply need a hug from my mom, I’ve got a close friend who I know will stand beside me and make the longing bearable. In the same way, when my friends are feeling down or going through a rough patch, they know I’m there for them. When you’re with people with similar interests, you can celebrate and rejoice together. I know there’s always someone in my community that’s down to jam some music and break out the dance moves, which is often what I need in my life (don’t we all?!)!
So let's look for lots of reasons and ways to gather people together, to love one another well and chase after God more and more.