What comes to mind when you hear or read the word “community”? A group of people united by geographies like a neighborhood, town, or city? Or perhaps a group of people who share the same interests or activities like civic clubs or service organizations? Maybe a group of people who focus on Christian faith and following Jesus? What comes to mind?
Developing community is one of the characteristics of a Christ-centered leader. The question is what kind of community are you developing?
Two Distinct Ideas of Community
To resource you as a Christ-centered leader, I want to focus on two distinct ideas of community. The first is koinonia found in the New Testament. The second is the community in which your congregation is located. In both communities, you have opportunities to share the gospel and to grow in relationship with Jesus and the people entrusted to your care.
To focus on these two concepts, keep in mind that the foundation of Christ-centered leadership is Jesus. So, through the lens of being a Jesus follower, what does it mean to live in community with other Jesus followers and what does it mean to be a Jesus follower in the midst of a diversity of people and beliefs?
To get an idea of what it means to develop community, let’s look at koinonia, the New Testament understanding of fellowship.
Read: Acts 2:42-47
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone because many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
The first followers of Jesus, “…devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship…” Gathering in community was important. It is mentioned three times: They devoted themselves to “fellowship” (verse 42), “All who believed were together” (verse 44), and “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple…” (verse 46). Being together was an important characteristic of their faith development.
What is Koinonia?
This fellowship was known as “koinonia.” Before describing what it is, let’s identify what it is not. It is not formal gatherings for potluck dinners or informal gatherings with family and friends like us. It is neither being a part of a country or civic club nor is it like being a part of a service organization. Koinonia is even more than participating in worship. All of these are good and needed, but they do not describe what those early followers of Jesus experienced as koinonia.
Koinonia for them was gathering to listen and learn of the gospel (apostles’ teaching). They were trying to make sense of what they had experienced at Pentecost. Gathering was to eat together, (breaking of bread). It was an expression of God’s love, agape, working for the good of others, especially those who had little to eat. Gathering to pray (prayers). They gathered with glad and generous hearts in gratitude to God, seeking direction on how to live their lives as followers of Jesus.
John Wesley on Community
It is this same koinonia that John Wesley experienced when he expressed that “I felt my heart strangely warmed, I felt I did trust Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and save me from the law of sin and death.”
Wesley was motivated to establish a koinonia system to help others, whose hearts were also “strangely warmed.” He was surrounded by people who not only wanted to hear the gospel but wanted to experience it. They lived in a time of spiritual apathy in which there was a disconnect between themselves and their faith. There was also an institutional disconnect that created disillusionment and distrust of the church.
Wesley’s Aldersgate experience became a model for heartfelt faith. For the people whose hearts were warmed by God’s love, Wesley developed a system to help keep the heartfelt faith alive with experiences of care, support, encouragement, and correction.
He developed community by using class meetings and bands in which followers of Jesus were nurtured in faith and held accountable with compassion. People cared for and looked after each other’s souls. It was in the fellowship where loving hearts set other hearts on fire.
Koinonia was woven into the DNA of those early Christians called Methodists. Whether you are United Methodist or not, the koinonia has shaped your faith as a Jesus follower. It is an essential experience in assisting you in becoming who you are created to be.
Shaped by Community
Although I did not know it at the time, my earliest memories of faith are of people teaching, caring, supporting, and encouraging me in the faith community. Whether it was a fourth-grade Sunday school teacher telling me I would go somewhere else in the world to tell others of Jesus, a junior high school teacher who taught me to pray and to listen for God to speak, a high school teacher who cried with the class the day after a major disaster, or the Jesus followers who nurtured me in faith with compassion from a child to an adult, koinonia was part of my experience in becoming who I am today.
Over the years I have attempted to develop koinonia through small groups or other fellowship experiences, but where I have experienced it most was when it was part of who we were as a community of faith. It was when other Jesus followers, whose hearts were warmed with God’s love, shared their faith and love with one another, the larger community, and the world.
You are a leader of a heartfelt faith. There are two aspects of this heartfelt faith: the experience of God’s love in the life of each individual; and the gathering of followers of Jesus who have experienced God’s love. Think clearly about how to provide opportunities for the “warm heart” and the structures of care that will be a setting for the transformation of individual lives, communities, and the world.
When Wesley insisted that “true Christianity cannot exist without the inward experience and the outward practice of justice, mercy, and truth,” he gave us our focus on koinonia.
Questions for Reflection
Reflect on these questions for yourself:
- How is my relationship with Jesus?
- Has my heart been warmed by God’s love?
- How do I grow in faith and live out my faith in meaningful ways?
Reflect upon these questions for your community:
Am I developing the structures of care where people can grow in grace and discipleship, where the fruits of the spirit are being cultivated, and where loving hearts are setting others’ hearts on fire?
The early followers of Jesus “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship…” So, one of the characteristics of Christ-centered leaders is to develop koinonia, Christian community.
O God thank you for a heartfelt faith and for the fellowship you have provided for me to grow in my faith. By your grace, continue to introduce me to people who can provide care, support, instruction, and correction to my faith. Thank you for the ways you have provided for me to become more of the person you have created me to be. Give me the faith to trust you more. In Jesus’ name,. Amen.
Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. In whom did you meet Jesus? How was your heart strangely warmed? What structures did you put in place to give others care, support, encouragement, and hope? What do you need to do to lead others into koinonia? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to become more who God has created you to be.
Next week we will look at the characteristics of the community as your mission field. As you learn and grow keep in mind, who you are is how you lead.