Community: A Way to Belong

It can never be said that Adele Gaboury’s neighbors were less than responsible. When her front lawn grew hip-high, they had a local boy mow it down. When her pipes froze and burst, they had the water turned off. When the mail spilled out the front door, they called the police. The only thing they didn’t do was check to see if she was alive.
She wasn’t.
On Monday, police climbed her crumbling brick stoop, broke in the side door of her little blue house, and found what they believe to be the seventy-three-year-old woman’s skeletal remains sunk in a five-foot-high pile of trash where they had apparently lain, perhaps for as long as four years.
Eileen Dugan, seventy, once a close friend of Gaboury’s, whose house sits less than twenty feet from the dead woman’s home: "It’s not really a very friendly neighborhood, I’m as much to blame as anyone. She was alone and needed someone to talk to, but I was working two jobs and I was sick of her coming over at all hours. Eventually I stopped answering the door."
Nobody was out there for Adele Gaboury. Our disconnect from others is a fractal pattern in our world. We almost celebrate isolation as a good thing.

Last week we started to unpack the 3C’s that our church embraces as a pattern or a description of what it means to be a Christfollower. If you are an authentic engaged follower of Christ you will have them in your life in a functional way.
We have talked already about Celebration/Worship. Today we are going to look at Community. To have a biblical foundation for these messages I am using John 4. It is the story of a woman that was totally unchurched and living a sinful life who encounters Jesus Christ sitting at a well.

A conversation ensues and within minutes her past of broken marriages is on the table as well as the fact that she is living with a man that she is not married to. Interestingly enough we find in this story elements of all three of the 3C’s.
Jesus talks with her about authentic worship. He describes how that true worshippers will worship in spirit and in truth. He tells her that the Father is looking for people that will worship and be faithful.
I want us to now move from the concept of celebration to the idea of community. Celebration is at times corporate. As we sit here today we are worshipping as a group using the mediums of music, prayer and giving. Sadly there are people who end their affiliation with Christ and the church at the first C. I have a news flash for you. You cannot maintain or fulfill your walk as a Christfollower if you stay in that position for an extended time.

There are at least 30 commands in the New Testament that you cannot do or fulfill if you are not in community or relationship with other people. (See handout) The Bible says that we are to love one another, encourage one another, pray for one another etc. You and I cannot do these things if we are not engaged in the lives of other people. You cannot do them if you are just an attendee and not part of a community.  If you are just attending you are a “what” and not part of the “who.” It’s like going to a concert and just watching the performers.

What we believe is that we start as a celebrating community but we should be building or growing to being a relational community. In 1 Timothy the church is called the “household of God.” In Galatians 6:10 it is called the “family of believers.” In Ephesians 4 it is called the “body of Christ.” In John 10 it is called “God’s flock.” Over and over the church is referred to as being a community or in community.

It is great that you are here and that you bring people with you. It is fun to be part of a growing church but if we only grow in numbers (nickels and noses) and we are not growing or maturing in our faith then we are failing as the church.

I am asking you today to Move from sitting in rows to sitting in circles.
When you make the move from rows to circles a lot of things change in your life.
We should be in relationships that “provoke one another to good deeds” so that we might change the world by being in community. Relationships happen when we look each other in the face not stare at the back of other people’s head as we watch a performance on a stage.

It is ironic that sometimes the culture outside of the church gets community better than some of the people in the church. I can think of all kind of outside organizations or groups that practice community. People come together around things like riding motorcycles, playing ball, playing cards, playing music, scrap booking, book clubs, art, computer games, and even wearing red hats and eating out. The list could go on and on.

In fact in this story we find a woman not connected to God but definitely a part of a community and because of her being in community she has an incredible influence over others. Based on an examination of John 4 and the story of the woman at the well I want to suggest four ways that being in community effected this story and the ability of Christ to work through this woman.

1. She put others first Community focused

Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked to find him talking to a woman, but none of them had the nerve to ask, “What do you want with her?” or “Why are you talking to her?” 28 The woman left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village, telling everyone, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could he possibly be the Messiah?” 30 So the people came streaming from the village to see him. John 4:27-30 NLT
In this story the woman was so intent on sharing the good news with others that she left her water pot sitting by the well and ran back to the village. One of the greatest blessings about being in community with others is that there will be some people in your life that will practice the discipline of being focused on community.
When we are in a community life group the intention is we participate for the good or betterment of the community we are in. In other words we take our eyes off ourselves and focus on those we have chosen to do life with.
A healthy group will practice what we see the woman in this story doing. Let me assure you this is not as easy as it sounds. The idea is that when we allow ourselves or open ourselves up to participating in a life group we are doing it for the greater good of those around us.
“Discipleship occurs only in community. Very few people are expert in anything all by themselves. They need a supporting community.
Do you know a good musician who was not trained, nurtured and sustained by the music community? Show me an athlete who achieves excellence all alone, apart from the athletic community. Very few wise men become so without the accumulated wisdom of the centuries as expressed in colleges and universities and libraries. Medical people are more like ensembles and symphonies than soloists. What business tycoon does it all on his own without dedicated experts in finance, engineering, personnel, and marketing? Excellence requires participation in, and support of, a community of like-minded people.
Likewise in the church -- a forerunner of the new kingdom. Very few achieve Christian maturity all by themselves. Seldom is the Bible studied diligently without the aid of scholars and teachers. Rarely are people led to generosity by their own impulses.Maurice A. Fetty, The Divine Advocacy, CSS Publishing, Lima, Ohio.

It is important that we come to understand the principle of putting others first and being community focused.
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” — Dale Carnegie

2. She passed on the Good News/Message to others. Conversational

28 The woman left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village, telling everyone, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did!
Another characteristic of a healthy life group is conversation and sharing the Message with others. When we gather in the name of Christ, it may or may not be to study the Bible in depth but when Christfollowers gather they pass on the message through conversation and sharing.
I am not sure how this happens but when we are together we grow in our relationship with Christ.
When I was a kid growing up in the “house beside the church,” my greatest memories are of having people over to the house. My dad was a pastor and we always lived in the parsonage which was always located across the street or right beside the house.  Sunday nights were all about having people over. We didn’t have small groups then and we did have a Sunday night service but we almost always had people over and in those conversations the Message of Christ was always shared.
When Christfollowers get together the conversation should always be Christ centered at some point. You and I may talk about the weather, the economy, and the game but eventually we share when we come together about a Man “who told me everything I ever did.” The woman at the well only knew Jesus for a few moments but she went to her community and testified of her experience.  
Again when I was growing up we did this on Wednesday nights. We would stay in the service as long as people still had a testimony to share. The intent of the testimonies were to share and declare what Christ had done for you and how much you loved Him and how determined you were to follow Him no matter what. Eventually those meetings became sort of mundane and ceased to exist but the concept was right.
It is in the context of life groups what we now get to “testify” to the goodness and greatness of our Savior.

3. She posed a great question Christ Centered

28 The woman left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village, telling everyone, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could He possibly be the Messiah?
Listen to this news clipping. “Gambling, robbery, sexual immorality, and violence is prevalent. Half of all children are born out of wedlock; purity and fidelity to the marriage vow are sneered out of fashion. Corruption in politics is rampant. The world is broken.” This clipping is from 1694.
It was in this time that John Wesley began preaching to the poor, a message of new life through the free grace of Christ. His message was one of assurance and the power of the Spirit. He In addition to a great preacher Wesley was an organizer, and those who accepted Jesus as Lord where put into bands. In these bands people strived to put scripture into practice and they called it holiness. Wesley had a great deal of observers, but his goal was to bring them to obedience of ChristThey called their small group ministry “Bands” and these bands helped bring England, into a great awakening. These groups did not look much like a Bible study. They usually asked a few questions, we would probably look at the questions and call them accountability groups

When we participate in a community life group we are declaring that we want to center our life around Jesus Christ and His teachings.  Recently I participated in a community service in another church. The person delivering the sermon made a point of saying that Christ was not the only way to heaven. While it would be nice to indulge the thought it takes the heart and soul out of the mission statement given by Jesus for us to accomplish. We are to make disciples. We are to go to the far reaching corners of the world telling the story. When I heard this speaker say this I felt sad. I felt the power and pressure of living in a world that pushes us to be tolerant and celebratory of diversity and frowns on embracing absolute truth.
We join together to make sure we stay Christ-centered in our lives and our families.

4. She promoted spiritual growth in others Character Building

39 Many Samaritans from the village believed in Jesus because the woman had said, “He told me everything I ever did!” 40 When they came out to see him, they begged him to stay in their village. So he stayed for two days, 41 long enough for many more to hear his message and believe. 42 Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not just because of what you told us, but because we have heard him ourselves. Now we know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.” John 4:39-42 NLT
When we get together as followers of Jesus Christ, it should promote spiritual growth.
Bill Hybels recalls a time when Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian was speaking for a leadership conference at Willow Creek Community Church. He writes about it like this… “Dr. Bilezikian said there’s life-changing fellowship in biblically functioning community. That was a far cry from the childhood experience of a lot of his audience! The only kind of fellowship that many of his listeners had witnessed revolved around the fifteen or twenty minutes after the service when the men would stand around the church patio and ask each other superficial questions.
‘So how’s it going at work Jake,’ one of them would ask.‘Fine, Phil. Say, you driving a new pickup?’‘Used,’ Phil would reply. ‘What do you have going this week?’‘Not much.’‘Well, great fellowshipping with you, Jake.’‘Same here.’That was about it. They’d (find their wives who) were having similar conversations, and go home until next week. But the Bible says true fellowship has the power to revolutionize lives. Masks come off, conversations get deep, hearts get vulnerable, lives are shared, accountability is invited, and tenderness flows. People really do become like brothers and sisters. They shoulder each other’s burdens - and unfortunately, that’s something that few of the people in that audience had experienced while growing up in church.In many churches it just didn’t seem legal to tell anyone you were having a problem. Families that sat in the same pew for years would suddenly disappear, because the husband and wife were in turmoil over marriage problems. Instead of coming to the church for help and prayer and support, they fled the other way, because they didn’t feel the freedom to say, ‘We love Jesus, but we’re not doing very well. Our lives feel like they’re unraveling. We need some help!’The implicit understanding was that you shouldn’t have a problem, and if you did you’d better not talk about it around the church. I learned that lesson well. When I got old enough to stand on the church patio after services, someone would say, ‘So, Bill, how are things in high school?’And I’d give the response that I thought was expected. ‘Fine, Ben,’ I’d say. ‘They’re just great.’I didn’t feel I could tell him that my heart was being ripped to shreds because my girlfriend and I had broken up. Or that I was flat-lined spiritually. Or that I had and older brother who was drinking too much and driving too fast, and I was scared about where his life was heading.I didn’t say anything, because I felt that a good Christian just didn’t admit to having those kinds of real-life difficulties. And in many churches, that’s called fellowship.

It shouldn’t be.” (Rediscovering Church, p. 159-160)

I want to ask you something.  Are you giving your time to building others up in their faith or are you giving your time to worldly pursuits.

Think about these ten spiritual pursuits and then compare them to what you do with your time outside of a Sunday morning service:

WorshipPsalm 95:1-7
PrayerPsalm 66:16-20
Bible StudyHebrews 4:12
Single mindedness:  (focusing on God and His priorities)Matt. 6:33
Biblical communityActs 2:42-47



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