Help! We must learn to build community

I just started serving my third church as a pastor. I began ministry in Orlando, FL. Then, for the last five years, I served a church in Winona, MN. Now I serve a church in Franklin, WI. 

With each transition, some aspects are getting easier. I’m finding it easier to assimilate into the ministry. I’m finding it easier to make decisions as a leader. But there’s at least one aspect that seems to be getting harder for me with each move: building community

In our previous location, we had incredible friends and neighbors. We shared life together—our joys and, more important, our suffering. We knew people inside and outside the Christian church who let us into their lives, and we let them into ours. 

We continue to connect with our friends in previous locations, but we also need to put in the work of building a new community here. We don’t just want to find friends to meet our needs. We want to be good neighbors who serve others as well. Granted, this will take time. Community is built on love and trust, and that takes work.

Yet, there is one roadblock that’s new this time around: powerful, captivating, isolating technology

Wherever I turn, people seem to be locked behind the soundproof walls of Bluetooth earbuds, dialed in on the latest podcast or YouTube video. And I’m no different. I’m wearing earbuds right now to lock out any outside distractions. 

Our world seems to be turning into Ernest Cline’s dystopian novel Ready Player One, describing a future day when everyone has disconnected with the real world and is plugged into a virtual world called The Oasis. 

Previously, our culture had natural meeting points: a walk around the neighborhood, a workout in the gym, or a cup of coffee at Starbucks. But now, no place is sacred. Technology has closed every open space, offering the promise of distracting entertainment or vital information at the expense of having a real human connection. The chains of technology are so powerful that it seems almost impossible to break through our self-made prisons of solitary confinement. 

This is not good. I believe our socially disconnected lives are dangerous. Isolation is cancer for your soul. 

Here are three reasons we need to fight for community. 

1. We were designed for community. It was the Lord God who said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Adam lived in a perfect world, surrounded by friendly animals and even God himself. But that was not good enough. Adam needed another human being to survive and thrive. Human beings were created to live in community.

2. We find peace in community. I know a pastor who struggled with an addiction to pornography that was destroying his ministry, his family, and his life. He tried every spiritual discipline he could think of. He went to church regularly, prayed a ton, and memorized large sections of Scripture. All his personal, isolated efforts couldn’t break his addictive chains. 

But then he told somebody. That human being declared to him the forgiveness of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit began to dwell in him through community. 

James, Jesus’ brother, said it this way: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed (James 5:16).

3. We grow in community. You might be able to find lots of information on Google and your latest podcast, but you won’t necessarily find wisdom. Wisdom is found in personal admonition and accountability. Wisdom happens when a friend loves you enough to speak the hard truth about your spiritual blindness. 

The book of Proverbs is literally filled with this kind of advice. Here is just one example: “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm” (Proverbs 13:20).

What are we supposed to do?

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield in her latest book, The Gospel Comes With a House Key, says Christian hospitality is not a luxury but a necessary fruit of the gospel. We need to find tangible ways to love and connect with fellow Christians and our greater community. 

Here are some of the things my family and plans to do to create community:

  • We will participate in a church small group. 
  • I will consciously not wear my earbuds when I’m working in the yard or walking around the neighborhood so that I’m ready for natural conversations. 
  • We are planning on opening our home every Sunday afternoon for a communal meal. We are hoping to keep this as a standing invitation for anyone in our church and neighborhood who can make it.  

These are our attempts to break through our isolated lives. What advice could you give? What are you doing that seems to create real relationships and community? How are you being intentional to have human contact, accountability, and friendships?

Please put your examples and advice in the comments section below. I will personally read them and hope to learn something new from you.  

Pastor Ben Sadler has served as a full-time pastor since 2010. He began his ministry at a Spanish-speaking congregation in Florida. From 2014 to 2019, he served at Goodview Trinity Church in Minnesota. Currently, he is at Victory of the Lamb in Wisconsin. He is married to Emily, and they have three children. Ben loves to spend time with his family, ride his road bike, read, write, and preach.

 

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