Our community, the People of God in Pittsburgh, was founded on two inspired words: “Gather my people together”, and “Build to Last.” Communities that last have many common elements, both as a group and among the individuals. Love, forgiveness, mercy, forbearance, and united leadership are a few.
In this short article I want to highlight two that might not seem as obvious to most Christians, especially to those mired in an individualistic, success-oriented culture: commitment and engagement.
Many groups have already become aware of the necessity for commitment, since many have crafted agreements, covenants and/or constitutions to describe their life together. It is worth noting that written documents do not necessarily result in a Christian way of life, but they do give some description for what the members are trying to do…hoping to be on the same page with expectations and responsibilities.
These key elements presented here hold true, not only for community, but for all other kinds of groupings and relationships: marriage, family, friendships, etc. Families are the groupings that most of us are familiar with, and they provide some of the best examples to explain these elements. A father who works long hours, is never home for dinner, and misses important family events may be more committed to his career, to making money, or to a comfortable retirement than to his family. He may say, “Love you” to end every phone call, but his level of commitment to family is inadequate to build a functioning Christian family. I say this fully aware of the modern expectations on the work force. Sometimes you have to grab life by the throat and force it to conform to your higher purposes and calling…you may have to find another job, even at a reduced salary, for your family to work.
At the community level, I may be more committed to exercise than to the Christian body that I have been given. The father mentioned earlier has left no margins for family, church, or community.
Sometimes, community commitment is misunderstood to be something like, “As long as it is attractive to me, or is useful for me and my family, I’ll be there.” That would be a very adolescent approach to Christianity, which calls us to be “good for others”. That’s actually how we show our love for God.
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.1 John 3:16
Commitment is a characteristic of the nature of God and an element that he wants to model in his people and show to the world.
The Lord keeps his word and he wants us to keep our word…commitment.
“Word” is one title for Jesus.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.John 1:1
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.John 1:14
Keeping our commitments and our word is a foundation of trust. We can see this in Acts 15:36-41. Paul clearly does not trust John Mark to make a second missionary journey since he abandoned them on the first. It even caused a split between Paul and Barnabas. The good news is that eventually they reconciled and at the end of Paul’s life Mark is serving Paul (2 Timothy 1:4).
Most Christian leaders and disciples have some understanding and appreciation for commitment. However, many are less aware of the second key element for a lasting community: engagement. By engagement I mean spending time together with brothers and sisters: time in worship, time in recreation, meal times, work times, vacations together, etc. I tend to favor long term investments, especially eternal ones.
Proximity is very helpful and even promotes engagement. But proximity is no guarantee. I have known couples that lived in a neighborhood cluster that were very isolated; and I have also known a couple that overcame large distances to be very engaging.
Communities are networks of relationships, and relationships are built by engagement. Jesus was fully engaged with his disciples over the three years of his ministry. The result of Pentecost was community.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.Acts 2:42
And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts…Acts 2:46
They spent time together and that builds relationships – relationships of trust.
Spouses need to spend time together. My wife and I have been married for 60 years, and for decades I have worked to protect our times together.
Families need to spend time together. Mealtimes should be protected. Approach decisions carefully about regular school activities that interrupt the evening family mealtime. Vacations are great family times. Family prayer times together build family relationships. How can I say that I love my family if I don’t spend time with them?
Prayer: How can I say I love God and I am a committed Christian if I don’t spend time with him? My relationship with the Lord is grown and deepened by spending time with him.
Community: How can I say that I love the brothers and sisters when I don’t really spend time with them? Strong relationships come from knowledge, and I get to know you by spending time with you. Communities are networks of relationships of people who know each other.
We’ve all seen fancy marriage ceremonies that did not result in successful marriages.
A commitment to a covenant does not necessarily produce a Christian community. It’s a step, but we need to spend time together, to engage one another, to get to know one another, to see the image of God in one another.
Whether in marriage or community, love is more than an emotion…it’s a commitment that longs for engagement.
Top image credit: Illustration of glowing cross in blue landscape setting, from Bigstock.com, © argus456, stock photo ID: 5937647. Used with permission
Bob Tedesco is the founder of the People of God, a Sword of the Spirit community in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA where he served as Senior Coordinator for 26 years. He has been involved in lay ministry for over forty-five years, and has served as Regional President of the North American region in the Sword of the Spirit.