Community of God
In my spare time, I babysit. My family does foster care, so we are currently up to two biological children (including myself), four adopted, and two foster. That brings me to a whopping total of seven siblings under the age of nine. We keep the diaper and juice box companies in business.
All that to say that I am very familiar with that very short but very explosive growth period that children go through. In a matter of months they transform from drooling, silent, invalids, to drooling, babbling, invalids. No, but really, they do change so quickly. They start looking for your responses and gauging your reactions. They pick up your patterns of communication—whether you like it or not.
I feel like this is what Abba Father has been watching me do over the past couple months. It began with a call to make a painful and difficult decision to leave the only Christian fellowship I’ve known at UNF. I loved the people in it and had learned so much in my time with them, but I heard God speaking to me. I didn’t know where I’d go afterwards or what the Lord was doing, but the decision was made and the fall semester was about to start. One of my best friends and constant sources of encouragement and conviction would be in France for the semester, so the panic of solitary confinement was beginning to set in.
But God, in his infinite mercy, knew me. I heard once that all of the gospel can be summed up in the phrase, “But God.” I tend to agree, because no matter how credible my fears or how crippling my doubts, God makes a way.
The great martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in one of his books, “Life Together”, about the unfamiliar concept of Christians living in an authentic community with one another. He writes, “God has prepared for himself one great song of praise throughout eternity, and those who enter the community of God join in this song.” It is such a beautiful thing to be a part of a thriving Christian group. Bonhoeffer says it is, “like the Christian’s sanctification. It is a gift of God which we cannot claim.” I ended up finding an authentic community this semester. And what I’d like to share with you, dear reader, is how the power of authentic community leads to growth in so many other areas of your life.
Authentic community emboldens you. It taps into the very best parts of who God made you to be and encourages those to be used. It celebrates differences within the fellowship and nurtures away insecurities. During my short time with this new group of believers, I’ve had more spiritual conversations with friends and strangers than the rest of my semesters at UNF combined. By no means am I saying that the place I was in before wasn’t doing these things, but for me, in this time, everything is coming together in a way it hadn’t before. Instead of simply praying for the lost in the comfort and safety of my home, the gospel is spilling out of my daily conversations. There’s a movement growing in our group, not handed down from those in authority, but growing out of the conviction of fellow students. People are praying for their classmates, they’re inviting them to study the scriptures, and intentionally walking the campus to meet new people. It’s seeping into the very core of our lives, this fellowship, and changing the way we do life.
When your divide your time between work, study, and community—not always evenly, I will add—you begin to view things differently. All throughout the New Testament we see groups of believers gathering together for prayer. Out of these meetings incredible things happen: demons thrown out, eyes made to see, men raised from the dead, even the occasional jail break. Encouraged by those who are joining you in prayer, sharing the gospel with that guy in Starbucks or your co-worker doesn’t seem so scary anymore.
Trying to find an authentic community in the first place can be scary in itself though. Having very little large-group skills, I walked up to people with the fantastic line of, “Hi, my name is Taylor and I don’t know anyone. Can I stand here?” A miracle all of its own, no one ran away. I had to keep pressing through uncomfortable situations to start making relationships. Through it all I just kept following the Jesus people and that led me to the place of growth I’m in now. If you don’t have a place to meet other believers or study scripture, take a chance and try out a place you’ve heard of before—even if you don’t know anyone there. Go on Facebook and look for groups near you, you might be surprised to see your friends involved with them. Stay tuned to Closer to Love and check out the many great ministries that will be featured here soon. But just like your momma told you, don’t try to be someone you’re not, just be who Jesus made you.
Written by Taylor Bump. Taylor lives in Jacksonville, Fl. and is a student at the University of North Florida