What are the marks of a true community? This question has been swirling around in my mind the past few days. As we reflected upon the coming of a new associate pastor, the flood relief work we have engaged in, the growing number of teens and young adults, and the struggle with some people not returning to church, the council agreed that God was inviting us into and teaching our congregation about community.
But what is a community and how does one foster a biblical view of this term? From the dictionary definitions that reduce community to a ‘group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common’ (Oxford Languages) to the relatively recent explosion of the term in literature (the term is 6x more popular today than in 1950) to the popular idea that communities are idyllic, there seems to be a lot of emphasis upon the idea. But what are the signs that a community really exists? What are the tangible acts that foster community and thereby allow one life to connect with another in a way that brings about a greater love for each other?
Over the next few months, I hope to write a series of brief articles that will help our church to get a handle on these practices of community. They won’t be given in any particular order, but simply based upon my thoughts as I reflect upon this topic. Today’s community-producing action is inspired by 2 events: A recent request for help cleaning out a crawl space and asking someone to help me work on my washing machine. In one instance, someone else asked for help, in the other I was doing the asking. But in both cases, laughter resulted, love was given and received and something that could have taken longer was accomplished quickly.
Furthermore, it took an individual recognizing that they had a right to impose upon other people. That may sound crude, but it is true. Our society often tells us we have no right to impose upon others. Maybe that is why true community is an anomaly. Maybe that is why literature has picked up the theme recently, as our highly individualized society has continued to degenerate from barn raisings and canning parties into selfishness and busyness. But when a person recognizes they have a right to ask for help, there is a claim being made and that claim is what contributes to the development of a true community. The claim is not for help alone; the claim is a statement that I belong to those whom I am asking – they are mine and I am theirs and we need each other.
It is this claim that is one of the building blocks to creating a truly biblical community where lives touch each other, serve each other, need each other. We see this in the Scriptures. True communities share their needs with one another. The Gibeonites, though only recently incorporated into the people of God, asked for help when they were attacked and Joshua provided aid (Josh. 10:6). Paul asks for help in many ways to further his missionary work – prayer support, financial help, ministry partners. And then there are all the Psalms where the people of God are asking for help from the Lord. In each case, one party makes a request of the other because they believe they have a rightful claim to another’s help.
Therefore, at Hope in Christ Church, we want each person to regularly consider ways in which the help of others would be a blessing and further opportunities to work together and depend upon one another. But it isn’t enough to simply think about it. After we identify the ways or the places where another could come alongside us, then we must choose to act by asking one, two, or more persons from the body of Christ to help us in our needs. Sometimes those requests may be as mundane as working in our garden, building a fence, or repairing an appliance. Other times they may be grand in scale like tearing and gutting a house. Sometimes we might ask for help in a project of our own; other times we might ask for help in a project to benefit another. Sometimes our request might be for prayer or help in learning something, or just needing another to sit with us quietly to assuage loneliness, depression, or loss. In all these ways, the claims we make must be viewed as a rightful and appropriate response by those whose lives belong to one another.
Asking for help is a means to developing true community.