Today we begin a new series of messages entitled Created for Community(1)
. Let’s begin by talking about a number of cultural trends taking place in the 21st century.21st Century Cultural Trends
We live in a world increasingly characterised by:
It’s Not All Good
Individualism is a belief in the importance of the individual and the virtues of self-reliance and personal independence. It says that the interests of the individual should take precedence over the interests of any social group. Individualism is opposed to the view that tradition, religion, or any other form of external moral standard should be used to limit an individual's choice of actions. This social shift goes way beyond the issue of human dignity, the rights of the individual or even the celebration of human uniqueness and diversity. All these things are maintained in healthy places of community. Individualism is a way of life that makes the individual supreme or sovereign over everything. The result is often a loss of genuine connectedness and people no longer want to sacrifice for or serve their community.
Many people in society today lack true relational connection. In the midst of busy lives, overcommitted schedules, and congested cities, many people still feel alone. We are often surrounded by people but often we don’t really know them and they don’t know us. We are a culture craving relationship.
Individualism promises to give us the best only to inflict us with the disease of loneliness which then flows into feelings of isolation. Very few people interact or even talk with people around them any more. In fact, most people work hard at avoiding conversation with the multitude of people around them who they don’t know. Society is characterised by discontinuity and fragmentation. We are losing our sense of community and, with it, our shared values.
People often buy ‘things’ today to try to fill a need that is not being met in their relationships. Consumerism seeks to curb the negative feelings of isolation; we spend increasing amounts of money in an attempt to feel better. However, the more we are obsessed about applying consumerism as a solution to our loneliness, the more it feeds the individualism mindset.
These trends in society are not all good. We were never meant to live in a state of isolation. We were created to be relational beings. As writer John Ortberg says, ‘I have never known anyone … who was isolated, lonely, unconnected, had no deep relationships – yet had a meaningful and joy-filled life.’ Yet that is the way many people have chosen to live. We can easily live life around many people, but possibly not experience life deeply with anyone. No wonder so many people feel alone and isolated, experiencing what writer Randy Frazee calls ‘crowded loneliness’. Community is under siege – relational and social distress in multiple forms has reached a magnitude never attained before throughout history. This shattering of community is Satan’s favourite activity.God’s Original Plan
After God completed his amazing work of creation, he made a startling statement - “It is not good for the man to be alone (Gen. 2:18).” Adam was not “lonely”, as he had the animals and God to spend time with. But he was “alone” in that he was not living in community as a human being. A creation in God’s image required a plurality of persons. The implications of this statement go far beyond the marriage relationship. It is a statement about the importance of us having close relationships with other people. It is God’s will that we be connected to other people. Relationships are a vital part of God’s plan. Doing life alone is ‘not good’. We were created for relationship and living alone does not accurately reflect the God whose image we bear.
Christian psychologist, Henry Cloud, says it well, “God created us with a hunger for relationship – for relationship with Him and with our fellow people. At our very core we are relational beings.” He goes on to say, “The soul cannot prosper without being connected to others.”God's Dream
God’s dream for you and me and that is that we experience authentic community and meaningful relationships characterised by oneness with him and one another. In Jesus’ prayer to the Father, as recorded in John 17, his focus was on his followers and his primary concern was the depth of relationship they would experience with each other. He wanted us to experience the same quality of relationship that Jesus had been enjoying as part of the Trinity since the beginning of time.
Jesus wanted all his followers to experience relationships characterised by mutual encouragement, support, love and honour. This was his prayer and this was his dream. He was also concerned about the ‘watching world’. He recognised that the credibility of his life and message in the eyes of unbelievers was dependent upon the way we as his followers relate to one another (see Jn.13:34-35). The credibility of the gospel is at stake. As Francis Schaeffer said, “Our relationship with each other is the criterion the world uses to judge whether our message is truthful – Christian community is the final apologetic.”(2)Church Life
If there is one place in the world where you should find this sense of community it should be the church. One of our core values at CityLife Church is Loving Relationships - we are a loving church . Our goal is to see every person loved and cared for in such a way that they feel accepted, valued and have a sense of belonging.
However, this sense of closeness and community doesn’t happen automatically. We can still be as individualistic in our thinking as the world around us. Many Christians are lonely and feel isolated. We come to church meetings but do we experience a deep sense of community? The church is to be counter-cultural. God wants us to be a ‘family’ that experiences meaningful relationships. God wants our relationships to be characterised by kindness, sensitivity, warmth, closeness, openness, transparency, encouragement, forgiveness, support and service. All this can be summed up in one word: God’s “love”.
The church is God’s new community. It is not something we go to; it is something we must be a part of! It is to be a distinctive community, where we are not only different in our individual lifestyles, but also in the way we relate to each other. The church should model God’s love to the world (see Acts 2:42-48).Sample Questions
- Describe a meaningful relationship you have had. What made it so significant?
- Why are people today so lonely?
- Do you think people really want community? Why?
- What do you think people are looking for?
- Describe the last time you had a meaningful interaction with a neighbour.
- Can someone live a joy-filled life in isolation from others?
- What are some of the consequences of not living in meaningful relationship?
- Do you agree with the statement that there is a need inside of us that no even God himself will fill?
- How does living in community reflect the image of God?
- What are some of the barrier or hindrances to the development of close quality relationships?
- What lessons can we learn from how the first church in Jerusalem functioned (see Acts 2:42-48)?
- What part do small groups like our Life Groups play in God’s desire for the church to be a family of close knit relationships?
Many of the concepts for this message, as well as the discussion questions, have been gleaned from Randy Frazee’s book Connecting Church (Zondervan Publishing: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2001) as well as from the book Created for Community by Andy Stanley and Bill Willits (Multnomah Publishers: Sisters, Oregon, 2004). Both books are highly recommended.(2)
From The Mark of a Christian (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press), p.14-15.