Why We Need Gospel Community1
Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. Proverbs 18:1
“Do you have a small group?” I asked someone recently.
“No, I am just in a stage of my life where I don’t need a lot of community right now.”
After this statement, I began justifying why Christians need more community in their lives than what they encounter just on Sunday mornings. This person attended a neighboring English international church in Seoul, South Korea where I live. The need was more difficult to explain than it was to experience. The sister church this person attended did not prioritize small groups as fundamental for Christian growth, but largely viewed them like many churches do in the West as extracurricular. “We have small groups available, but we know many of you are very busy during the week and we totally respect that.” This was the prevailing attitude I was trying to disagree with, but I found myself stumped. Like many people, I grew up believing small groups were extracurricular. For Christians who have never experienced living in gospel community, it can be hard to understand what you are missing.
During this conversation I smiled and nodded. What else could I do? At the time I had no verse and no foundation beyond my personal experience. I had a strong conviction that I was entirely unprepared to explain. So I began praying and seeking the Lord to find my answer.
Crosstown believes “the best way to make disciples of Jesus is by exposing people to credible gospel communities.” But, how is this statement relevant when I live so far away from Crosstown? We attend a church in Seoul that shares our vision of gospel communities, but what about those who already have a church and are not expressing any interest in participating with my community? When I found Proverbs 18:1, it all clicked. When I isolate myself I seek only what is good for me. Isolation hurts both of us. I lose you and you lose me.
So why would some Christians be apathetic about community? The question we need to ask is why should they care if no one has exposed them to community? We need to know why we need gospel community.
1. Gospel community is necessary.
Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ. Hebrews 3:12-14
I need a credible gospel community because my flesh is evil and unbelieving. I am surrounded by a world that is evil and unbelieving. I need brothers and sisters to remind and warn me every day so that I will not be deceived by sin and hardened against God. In my life with Christ, I have watched too many brothers and sisters fall away to be deceived by sin and hardened against God. Sin has hardened people I grew up with and was very close to. It still hurts. Personal sin is tricky like that. Our sin harms no one greater than ourselves, but our sin blinds no one better than us too. We too often justify away our sin until we risk hardening against God. We return to the garden, “Does God really love me?”
I need you in my life, not just once a week, but all the time. I need my gospel community while it is still “today.” Once a week I can hide, I can fake it. We all can, right? If we are honest with ourselves we all need daily reminders not of our sinfulness, but of our Savior. We need reminders that the Kingdom of God is worth more than temporary, sinful satisfaction. Community is necessary in our daily struggle against sin.
2. Gospel community was modeled.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Acts 1:8
The early church was established by the Holy Spirit. It was formed and shaped by the apostles proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about Jesus (Acts 28:31). Early Christians were spurred to action by the prompting of the Holy Spirit working inside them. They had power from God they could feel and believe in. If God was for them who or what could stop them? So then, with this empowering of the Holy Spirit, what did these God-empowered people do? The answer: community.
Notice the two things the people of Acts 1 do:
All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47
They were filled with the power of God and with that power they formed a community. They were not lonely or looking for a good fit for their family. They were overcome. By God’s power, that community was defined by “great joy and generosity.” They shared everything of their worldly wealth. The radical power of the Holy Spirit inside them produced radical actions that transformed their lives, the lives of their neighborhoods, their cities, their countries, and eventually God’s radical transforming power transformed the very empire that nailed Jesus to the cross.
What if we don’t model an Acts 2 community? Can we then be sure that we are Acts 1 people? If we have that radical power and we are humbly transformed by the Holy Spirit we can have confidence before God (1 John 3:21; 2 Cor 3:4; Eph 3:12). And if we don’t? Repent and ask God for change (1 John 5:14). Credible gospel community is possible for all Christians, but it requires the radical power of God to turn the world upside down.
But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.
3. Gospel community is needed.
In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen. So you should earnestly desire the most helpful gifts. But now let me show you a way of life that is best of all. 1 Corinthians 12:22-23,31
Credible gospel community is the way of life that is best for all. Too many churches use too few of the gifts of the Holy Spirit on a regular basis. How many gifts could you really use once a week on Sunday? Teaching, music, and hospitality? What about all the other gifts for the rest of the week? If you don’t have those three gifts or if you are not the “most qualified” to stand on stage, you are simply out of luck. But that doesn’t sound at all like the radical, upside-down community in Acts 2. It sounds like worldly wisdom: gather together the most talented people to impress and attract more people to your church. Is that what Jesus did? Were the grungy fisherman from Galilee the most qualified, talented, and best looking to lead a new movement? We need community because without it we cannot be the Acts 1 people God has called us to be. We cannot do the Acts 2 things God has called us to do. God has gifted us with unique and powerful gifts to advance his Kingdom and the gifts that are not on stage can be the most important! (1 Corinthians 12:24)
Finally, gospel community is needed because those unique and powerful gifts help us survive this life just like 2 Corinthians 4:8-12 testifies the early church survived. Too often we fail to prepare ourselves for bad times. When they strike we ask, “Why?” when we should ask, “Why not?” We save up money for emergencies then we wonder why we feel so alone when tragedy strikes. Money doesn’t love us when tragedy strikes, people do.
My need for gospel community was powerfully demonstrated in my life on June 23, 2014. My youngest daughter’s birthday. At the time, we had been part of a small group for the previous two years. On that day my wife called me and told me she needed to go to the hospital. She was 32 weeks pregnant and there was serious trouble. I rushed home and called 911. She lost consciousness from blood loss. Before I arrived home she had just enough time for one more call: our small group. “Come, we need help.” They came, all of them. In the middle of a Monday afternoon they dropped everything, left work, and came to help. Some helped by taking our other three small children for 24 hours with no questions asked. Our house was left a mess from the emergency and they cleaned it. We had not yet bought a fourth car seat, and they generously bought one for us. Sitting alone in the hospital waiting room, I called my pastor. He also dropped everything and shepherded. He sat with me, prayed, and spoke truth to me while we waited 45 agonizing minutes to see if I was a widower or a new dad. By God’s grace my wife and my daughter were spared, but even if He did not save my wife and young daughter, I had a gospel community right there to support me by using their gifts. No community is perfect, but those next few weeks the body of Christ was working and God was glorified.
Our gospel community needs us glorifying God with all our gifts. We need our gospel community to be there for us when times are good and especially in an hour of desperate need. We need our community to hold us accountable from the daily temptations of sin.
As Christians, there will never be a stage of life where we don’t need a gospel community.