Cultivating Community

Though community is challenging, there’s an often overlooked way to cultivate it. That is the practice of hospitality. If you’re dissatisfied with your community or don’t have one at all, showing hospitality is a way to take agency and change your situation. In our culture, hospitality is not a primary value, but cultures around the world and many of the oldest myths make it one of the highest virtues. Regardless of cultural values, it is the pathway to community, and it is commanded in Scripture.

Paul wrote to the Romans, “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality” (Rom. 12:13). Paul’s ministry depended on Christians’ hospitality (Rom. 16:23), as did the the other apostles’ ministries. John wrote, “We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth” (3 John 8). Spreading the gospel and making disciples starts in the home. To build God’s kingdom, we need each other’s support, whether with prayers, finances, a meal, or a place to stay.

The first part of Romans 12:13, “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need,” is the easier part, because it only takes so much effort to share with people who clearly have less than us. But the second part of the verse simply states “Practice hospitality” without qualifying to whom we show it. It’s harder to practice it with people who have more. We make excuses that our home isn’t clean enough or big enough or because we can’t cook as well as so-and-so. But hospitality was never meant to be a contest. More likely than not, people will feel more at ease if your home isn’t perfect, and it may encourage them to be more open with their homes, too.

When you think of hospitality, you might picture a Southern Living home and a three-course meal. But that’s only one way of practicing it. Hosting a movie night, organizing a Bible study, and meeting a friend for coffee also show hospitality. When you’re tight on resources, you can be hospitable with your time. (The free download with this blog post lists alternative ways to show hospitality.)

Hospitality is based in the character of God. He made an unfathomable sacrifice in order to welcome us into his family. Thus, to practice hospitality is to practice godliness. In fact, being hospitable was a requirement for anyone to become overseer in the church or for any widows to be put on the charity list (1 Tim. 3:2, 5:10).

Ultimately, if you want to create a community or deepen one that you have, you will need to make sacrifices of your time and effort. You’re no more likely to stumble into a perfect, ready-made community any more than you’re likely to move into a new house with your ideal garden already perfectly manicured. Even if the relationships have already rooted, they need nurturing. A community that supports you through your discipleship journey is the most rewarding garden you can cultivate.

Community in the Gospels

In the last post, we looked at how community is part of God’s nature. Now we’ll look at community in the Gospels.

Jesus made community an inherent part of discipleship. He could have chosen a single disciple to mentor one-on-one, or he could have only talked to crowds. Instead, he created a community of twelve men to closely follow and learn from him. Even out of that twelve, he made three of them (Peter, James, and John) to be his close companions, rather than just one.

Jesus knew that one disciple could not fully begin to practice his teaching without being joined by others. You cannot learn to love, forgive, and sacrifice without other people to love, forgive, and sacrifice for. If he had chosen only one disciple, Jesus could only have taught theoretical knowledge. But by forming a group, his lessons often arose naturally out of the disciples’ conversations and even quarrels with each other. For instance, in Luke 9:46-48, the disciples argue over which one of them is the greatest, and Jesus took the opportunity to teach them that being great in his kingdom means being the least.

By choosing the twelve disciples, Jesus also acknowledged our need for community. We grow and receive strength from mutual encouragement, support, and sharpening. When Jesus stated that he was going to Judea, Thomas told the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16). His courage to follow Jesus, even though he fully expected to be killed, inspired the rest to do likewise.

Finally, the disciples formed the earliest example of a church. Learning to follow Jesus as a “church” body prepared them for building the Church after his ascension (we’ll look more that in the next post). Before going off to create more disciples and start the Church, they had to learn to be the Church themselves. Together they endured crises like the storm on the Sea of Galilee; together they saw miracles like Jesus feeding the 5,000; together they failed as when they could not cast out an evil spirit; and together they remained after their master was crucified and their hopes destroyed. Imagining one disciple experiencing all these things alone is enough proof that Jesus knew what he was doing when he made discipleship a communal journey.

Why Community Matters

by Natalie LaValley

Though I haven’t introduced myself before, I write the blog at Ascending Leaders. As I was considering beginning a new series on community, I realized my own recent experiences at Ascending Leaders perfectly exemplified why it is crucial. So I’m going to start this series with a personal story.

I became engaged shortly after I had joined Ascending Leaders. One of the best parts of working at Ascending Leaders is our weekly prayer meetings, and after my engagement, my prayer requests became about choosing a venue, finding a new home, fixing a misplaced wedding veil order, and so on.

One day, when I came in for our weekly marketing meeting, Mike Johnson told, “We have an important event coming up, so today’s meeting is going to be extra long.”

I tried to look enthusiastic but wished I had grabbed more coffee. When I walked into the conference room, however, I was greeted by all my co-workers shouting “surprise!” and flipping on the lights to reveal the conference table laden with food, cake, gifts, and lots of glitter. The “extended marketing meeting” was a surprise wedding shower!

I left that day feeling overwhelmingly blessed. I hadn’t realized until then just how much the people I worked with were like family to me, because I had never expected that kind of community from a workplace.

Soon after the shower, my Ascending Leaders family became even closer. The wedding was to take place two weeks after school finals and my fiance’s graduation. I already knew those two weeks could be stressful. But then in the middle of finals week, I was blindsided by unforeseen crises, including a family member being moved to hospice care. I found myself in a season of mourning during what should have been a season of rejoicing. With school finishing, I became isolated from all my usual community except Ascending Leaders. At our prayer meeting, then, I shared everything that was happening. My co-workers decided to spend the whole meeting praying over me, and again, I was deeply moved by how much these people loved on me like family. Their prayers and offers of help supported and encouraged me through those two weeks.

On the wedding day, I experienced an overwhelming shower of blessings from God. The additional crises I had feared and asked prayer for did not occur; instead, an almost tangible sense of peace and joy presided over the day. It was the powerful and unmistakable result of people’s prayers. Some of my Ascending Leaders family were at the wedding, and those who were not sent notes to express that their love and prayers were with me – and I felt it.

the Ascending Leaders members at the wedding

Looking back, I realize how much my Ascending Leaders’ community supported me through my whole engagement. The prayer requests I had brought to our meetings were answered directly with unexpected blessings: my worry about getting an apartment was lifted by an amazing offer of free housing; I found another wedding veil that was a better deal than the original; health complications I had expected miraculously disappeared.

I cannot imagine the last year without the community I have in Ascending Leaders. While I don’t expect most people find it in their workplace, Christian community is essential. As a private and independent person who prefers trying to solve problems alone, I can easily fall into the trap of isolation. But my recent experiences are a reminder to me and those like me that we absolutely need to be in fellowship with the body of Christ. Crises will certainly occur, often when we are least prepared for them. Though it’s easy to think that discipleship is just about “me and Jesus,” we need fellow believers to bear Christ’s image and be His hands and feet for us in the times when he seems far away. That’s what I experienced with Ascending Leaders, and that’s why I want to start talking about community.

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Natalie LaValley, Marketing Associate at Ascending Leaders 

Natalie is completing her BFA in cinematic arts with a minor in writing at Houston Baptist University. She and her husband Nate love drinking coffee, petting cats, and capturing God’s creation on camera.

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