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To know God better means your primary relationships should provide you contexts to deepen your experience with Him (1 Corinthians 10:31). If your primary relationships do not give you that kind of care, you should consider changing your closest network of friends (Matthew 5:30; Hebrews 12:1).
While it is true that bad companions can corrupt your morals (1 Corinthians 15:33), it is also true that good companions can make you a better person. Good friends is a solid reason you should pursue biblical companions—those who want to motivate you to live a God-glorifying life (Hebrews 10:24–25).
If your closest relationships are not spurring you on to love God more effectively, you should reconsider how you do life with them.
Your life experience with God is the prize (Philippians 3:12–14). It is your hope to be progressively changed into Christlikeness (2 Corinthians 3:18) so that you can enjoy a fuller experience with Him. The Lord is the “what” when it comes to building a community of friends.
“What” do you want to do? Experience the Lord in more profound ways. With the Lord clearly established as the goal, you begin developing a methodology that will allow you to fulfill your call to walk in a manner that is worthy of the calling He has placed on your life (Ephesians 4:1–3, 5:1–2).
This methodology is the “how” part of experiencing God. The “how” makes the word koinonia an important word. It is the word for community, fellowship, and participation. (See other koinonia verses in Philippians 1:5, 2:1; 1 Corinthians 1:9; 1 John 1:3, 6–7.)
To fully experience God, there must be a community of like-minded people who are willing to participate in the Spirit for the cause of biblical fellowship. It is not possible to know the Lord in all the ways you can know Him without body-to-body reciprocality. (See 1 Corinthians 12:27; Matthew 25:44–45.)
With the Lord as the goal for your community, you can now begin delving into the practical aspects of building and knitting your lives together. Here are seven suggestions for you to think about as you create a richer community life experience.
1. Establish Your Goal
I will not develop this any further than what I have already mentioned but will only reiterate the importance of making the Lord the prize for doing community life. If deepening your experience with God is not your chief purpose, your community will deteriorate into a social club.
If you think about your primary relationships in a “mission statement” way, this could be your Community Mission Statement: “We are here to deepen our relationship with the Lord, which will happen in proportion to which we deepen our relationship with each other.”
2. Understand Koinonia
Each person in your community will have to decide if they are going to share their complete experience with God with each other authentically. There are good and bad sides to how they relate to God. For example, there are areas in their lives where they are not appropriating the grace of God, as evidenced by personal struggles and inter-relational conflict. Nobody is perfect. Everyone is a work-in-progress.
Everybody in your group of close friends will have sin problems and patterns in their lives. There are no exceptions to this rule. It will be easier to share how they are experiencing victory in Jesus, but it will be a struggle for them to be self-disclosing in areas where they are not experiencing that success.
The proportion in which every person in your community is self-disclosing will be the proportion in which your community will experience their fullest possibilities with God. Nothing in group life will be harder than living out this truth. It is impossible to enjoy a complete expression of koinonia if your closest friends are not willing to share their entire experience with God. The same holds true for you.
Sharing half-truths about how you are doing with the Lord will only allow others to enter into half of your experience with the Lord—the safe side, where you are living the dream. However, if you don’t let them into the darker side of your life, there is a good chance you will always remain there.
3. Model Your Mission
Because you do not want to be naked and ashamed (Genesis 2:25), you cover yourself with fig leaves. That is what Adamic people do. You carry a sense of fear, shame, and guilt, and you hope no one will expose you for who you are. The most effective way to motivate a person to share their complete experience with the Lord, specifically the darker side of themselves, is for you to share areas in which you are struggling. You become the model for the kind of person you want them to be.
All good counselors know this truth. When someone comes to counseling, the counselee can easily (and wrongly) assume the counselor has his act together. This presumption can intimidate the counselee and even hinder him from being self-disclosing.
A wise counselor will want to diffuse this wrongheaded notion by letting the counselee know that he—the counselor—does not have it all together. There have been many times in counseling where I have shared my sin struggles. My hope in doing so is to release the person from being fearful about being transparent. Trying to hide your sin is as futile as trying to hide your skin color.
The quicker you can get over yourself, the faster you can access one of the most effective means of grace given to you: the body of Christ. A wise, humble, and community-minded person will openly talk about the good and bad side of his relationship with the Lord.
4. Build Trust
The thing that will hinder you from openly sharing the darker things in your life is trust. “Can I trust you?” Usually, trust issues revolve around two important questions:
This relational tension is where you will need to be patient with people (1 Thessalonians 5:14). It can take years for someone to open up. Sanctification may sound nice on paper, but when you put a bunch of messed up people in a room together, things can become quite complicated.
5. Enjoy Small Talk
Because of the tentativeness of people, it will be important for you to learn the value of small talk. Small talk leads to deep talk. Typically, it is unwise to launch into deep conversations with people you do not know. It is even more unwise to pull things out of people—those who are not comfortable with that kind of intrusive conversation. They may want help at some level, but they have to come to you on their terms, not yours.
Do not expect in six weeks of relationship building with a friend what you have learned in twenty years of walking with the Lord. Give it time. Love on your friends while encouraging them and building trust. You keep on modeling your mission. Let them see your freedom in Christ (Galatians 5:1). Let them see your example of how to reveal the darker side of life while teaching them how to appropriate the grace of God into those areas of struggle.
6. Value Intentionality
It will be easy to lose purpose with your friends, which makes being intentional essential. The gospel-centered life comes with a cross. The temptation to be less real and more shallow speaks to the essentialness of keeping your eye on the goal (Hebrews 12:2).
Jesus never lost sight of His goal. There was joy set before Him, which provided the motivation necessary to endure the process of redeeming hurting, lost, and enslaved people (Hebrews 2:14–15; Matthew 26:38–39). Intentional community building invariably leads to conflict, which is the number one reason people default to superficial community life. It is too hard, and we can be too stubborn.
7. Create Contexts
Because of the challenge of getting people to open up and the time involved in building trust with them, it would be wise to have several contexts where you are connecting with your community. Let them experience you in different settings, doing different things. Traditionally, we have used six different settings in which we sought to do life with our friends.
There are five means the Lord provides to help you change. These “means” are not in any particular order, and they are not equally applied. It depends on the person, the time, and the need of the moment as to what “means” is most helpful in a person’s life. Here are those “means” of grace:
This last point is what can make community life an incredible means of grace, especially if the group comes together with a desire to mature in their sanctification.
The first set of questions is for you to examine your heart regarding biblical fellowship (koinonia). My appeal is for you to spend time with the Lord, discussing what you think about living in community with other believers. It would be helpful to share your thoughts with someone who is close to you. I also recommend you have a solid understanding of the previous two chapters on communication to help you get a better handle on true community.
This second set of questions are the ones Lucia and I regularly ask each other. They always get the ball rolling conversationally as we transparently share our experience with God—the good and the bad of it—with each other.