Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Community Spirit

TITLE: Community Spirit
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 9 August 2011
"If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose." (Philippians 2:1-2)
MAIN POINT: True communities need a common bond. This bond is described in the Greek word for fellowship: "KOINONIA," where people live out community responsibilities while developing intimate relationships.

I have heard the C-word being used very frequently these days. Back in Regent-College, it is a popular word to remind one another that no man/woman is an island, and that we need each other. On campus housing, during the first week of Orientation for new residents, the administrators consistently highlight events for people to attend, to gather, saying that it will benefit 'this community.' In the schools where my kids go to, whenever I attend talks or functions, the C-word invariably comes up. Some schools even call themselves 'community schools.' This C-word is one of those words, where overly frequent usage has turn it into a cliche, such as:
  • How's life? Answer: "Busy."
  • How are you? Answer: "I'm fine."
  • Why support this program? Answer: "It's for the benefit of the community."
This magical C-word works wonders. Upon invoking the word 'community,' treasurers loosen their purse strings. Listeners nod their heads. Leaders score political points. Even at the local Starbucks store, there are 'community' posters where members of the public can post their events, and activities to share with the rest of the community. Unfortunately, the C-word is in danger of losing its relevance. We desperately need to bring back the true spirit of community: Koinonia.

1) Community Without the Spirit

'Community' is a widely used word. To widely I am afraid. With the C-word so unabashedly used all over the place, it is easy to become bored, and also dismissive about it. I have seen the looks on people's faces when the word is mentioned. Some roll their eyes. Many clap or cheer, with unconvincing enthusiasm. I wonder. What is the fundamental basis of any community? Is it based on common hobbies, like knitting, reading, pottery, gardening, or simply an exercise group? Is it activism, like ecological concerns; fighting for gay rights; pushing for more bike lanes on the roads; reduce fatty foods in the school cafetaria; Mums Against Drunk Drivers association, and so on?  Or is it something many of us throw in to feel less guilty about our self-indulgent and self-centered lifestyles?

I get goosebumps whenever people use the word 'community' as a convenient add-on, to win common favour.  In some cases, the use of the C-word seems to be just another way to accomplish selfish goals. In a consumeristic society, where everything seems to have a monetary value, or a time element attached to it, the C-word can become a means to our ends. This wise quote is a good reminder.
"A machine has value only as it produces more than it consumes - so check your value to the community." (Martin H. Fisher)
Key: We need true communities that go deeper. We need true communities that are not simply a passing thought or a sprinkled comment. We need communities that do not see one another as means to our own ends.

2) A Community with a Heart

For any community to thrive, it needs a heart. The founder of Habitat for Humanity, Millard Fuller, has this to say about the community.
For a community to be whole and healthy, it must be based on people's love and concern for each other.
Believing that the poor needs money more than mere words of love, Millard Fuller attempts to put God's love into action. In 1976, he started an organization for affordable housing for the poor, called "Habitat for Humanity." Since its inception, millions of individuals have volunteered for all kinds of building projects, to help create more than 1800 homes for the poor and the needy. Habitat boldly declares its Christian heritage, by calling itself a "non-profit, ecumenical Christian ministry." The ministry aims not to give away houses for free, but to create housing that is 'affordable' in both price, as well as attracting generous financial loans. For any society where housing prices tend to spiral out of control, Habitat For Humanity is meeting an important need. For this, Millard Fuller has been given multiple honorary degrees, given the American President's Medal of Freedom, and one of the most well-known philanthropists in the world. You may ask about where Fuller gets his inspiration from? A quick answer: The C-word in its truest essence.

Key: A true community is one with a heart.

3) The Koinonia Farm Story

Greek word 'koinonia'
Where did Millar Fuller get his inspiration for his ministry?  It began with a vacation trip. In 1965, Fuller spent his Summer visiting some of his friends at a farm called 'Koinonia Farm.' The word 'koinonia' is a Greek word that  used for community. Literally, 'koinonia' means 'communion by intimate participation.' Churches sometimes use the word 'fellowship' to represent 'koinonia.' It has to do with caring, sharing, and in the early Church, the breaking of bread.
"They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the communion, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." (Acts 2:42)

The community at Koinonia Farm literally dedicates themselves to the New Testament description of 'koinonia.' This word comprises two related aspects. Firstly, it has a mutual responsibility.   In mutual responsibility, people in koinonia initiates community programs as a personal form of responsibility rather than a meaningless obligation. This responsibility is demonstrated through volunteering and a commitment to one another. At Koinonia Farms, members of the community share their time together through work, study, prayer, service, as well as play. There is always a little of everything, but the common theme is that, they are doing it together for the sake of one another, and for the sake of living out the biblical 'koinonia' spirit.

Secondly, it is an intimate relationship. Activities may begin with simply just doing the work. It may even start without much feeling for the people in the group. Yet, over time, through intentional service, and working together, lasting relationships are formed. Such actions together help to shape and deepen the relationships of the people in community. In fact, the environment exudes such warmth and generous service, that visitors have been richly blessed. Millard Fuller is one such individual who has been blessed by this simple community living in Koinonia Farm, to bless many more people, in setting up Habitat for Humanity.

Key: True Community is described in the Greek word: 'koinonia.' It is a fellowship that bonds responsible actions and intimate relationships together.

4) Koinonia is in Christ

A question I commonly hear is: "What if I feel that there is no sense of community in my group?"

Begin with the first aspect of Koinonia, which is 'mutual responsibility.' Rather than waiting for the community to change to fit your needs, why not change yourself to fit the community? What about sensing how God is leading you to improve the community in a Christlike manner?

Last week, I listened to a sermon about dating. The pastor was talking about dating where individuals are frustrated about the lack of results in finding the right guy/gal. Using Colossians 3:12-15 as anchoring verses, his main point is that it is not so much of the other party changing to your own expectations, but you becoming the person you expect. In other words, don't try to make the other person into your own image. Try to be the person in God's image. Become the person you are called to be. 

If you are in a community right now, pray and ask God how you can serve the people in the group. Serve with a sense of responsibility. Serve with a sense of giving without expecting anything in return. Serve with a purpose to please God rather than people. Simply put, serve with gratitude that Christ has died for you.

Another challenge I hear is this: "I don't feel a need for community."There are various reasons for that. Sometimes, it can be due to past disappointments with another community. Other times, it can be  a different level of need. Yet, other times, it can be some unhappiness with certain members of the group. See the community as a sounding board to reflect your imperfections. See the community as a place where you can contribute. See a community where there is an opportunity to see Christ, or if not, to demonstrate Christlikeness so that others can see Christ in the community through you.

For those of us looking for a 'perfect' or 'near-perfect' community. My advice is, don't bother. If you do find such a community, DO NOT JOIN THEM. Otherwise, you will make that very community 'imperfect' like you. People who are looking for a 'perfect' community, have this common problem: the greater their inner imperfections, the higher their expectations of an external perfection. Having said that, it is always beneficial to be open to God to change us, through whatever community we are joining. After all, it is not about us. It is also not about the community. It is about Christ.

Let me close with some wisdom from Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
"Christian community means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. There is no Christian community that is more than this. Whether it be a brief, single encounter or the daily community of many years, Christian community is solely this. We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2004, p31)
Bingo! The spirit of Koinonia is one where Christ is present. We are not made to be loners. We are made for each other in Christ. We are to live together in Christ. We are to practice Christlikeness in Christ. Christ did not come to die for a perfect community. He came for us because of our imperfections.

May there be a spirit of koinonia in your life, in your community, one where responsible service, together with intimate relationships, will be bonded together to bring glory to God, in Jesus Christ. Koinonia is firstly, secondly, thirdly, and always in Christ. This is Christian Fellowship.

Thought: "Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p38)


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