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My Chi Alpha group at Missouri State University has embraced community as one of the greatest core values we have. More and more, we see Chi Alphas and churches alike focusing on building community. Why is this?
Many accuse these ministries of selling out the Gospel. They claim that, in emphasizing community so much, these ministries become simple social clubs rather than actual ministries. And these people are sometimes right.
But first, let’s talk about why we’ve chosen to focus so much on building these communities.
At the heart of it, the reason we have chosen this path is because discipleship is a relationship. You cannot disciple someone with whom you have no relationship. Discipleship is a way in which two or more people relate—it is itself a type of relationship.
This is something that we find easy to forget: that Jesus and His disciples all had relationships with each other. It’s obvious when you think about it, but as many with many obvious things, it’s easy to stop noticing it. But Acts 2 bears this out:
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common…. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts….” (vv. 42-46).
The early Church practiced community. We are the body of Christ—and you don’t cut off your hand and expect it to keep living. If you are a Christian, you must live in community with other Christians.
And let us think about this from the perspective of a non-Christian. Why would you ever go to a small group or a large group service if you don’t know anyone? People aren’t generally clamoring to hear the Gospel. Most non-Christians in America think they already know it anyway. And why would you even care about the Gospel if you didn’t know it, or if you thought you did and hated it?
Why would you listen to the Gospel if you didn’t know the person telling you?
I’m not saying that street evangelism doesn’t work—it obviously does. And we should all rejoice when someone comes to Christ through a God-appointed encounter on the street! But relational evangelism—sincerely loving people and bringing them into a relationship with you and other disciples of Christ, and thus bringing them into discipleship with Christ—though it requires a larger initial investment of time, it brings a much more bountiful harvest.
Think of a farmer. Does a farmer walk out into a field and throw out seeds, hoping they’ll take root and plant? Not a very good farmer. A good farmer first plows and fertilizes the soil, then plants the seeds.
This is something that isn’t specifically mentioned in the Parable of the Sower, but is assumed: that the Sower first prepared his field. He made the soil good. He broke the earth so it wasn’t as hard as the path (where the seed failed to take root, leaving it to be eaten by the birds), he removed the rocks (where the seed sprang up but withered because it had no roots), and he removed the weeds (which choked out the seed). The soil was not initially good—it had to be prepared.
True discipleship begins before a person is a Christian. Before they’ve ever uttered their first prayer to God, including the “Sinner’s Prayer,” discipleship has begun. How else are people to get to the point of accepting God’s forgiveness if they have no idea they even need to?
Community is a network of relationships. In a ministry, community is a network of discipleship—a network of relationships that spur one another on to get closer to God, sharing the Gospel daily with each other. And that includes non-Christians.
As I said, sometimes people accuse ministries rightly of being a mere social club. This happens when a ministry builds community without building discipleship. But this isn’t an either/or situation. In fact, discipleship cannot happen without community. So both must be embraced and built, together.
And this is your job as a student leader, and as a disciple of Christ: to build community and to build discipleship.
How can you do this?
On a very basic level, hang out with people. Relationships require an investment of time. And college is an ideal time for this. You live, eat, go to class, and so on with and around non-Christians and Christians. You are in an ideal place to build a strong discipleship community. And that means spending time.
Be intentional about the people you hang out with. Don’t just spend time with your Chi Alpha friends. When everyone—especially student leaders—are only hanging out with Chi Alpha friends, then the ministry stops growing. The community turns inward and isolates itself. No one is inviting in new people. So think of people in your classes, in your dorms, in your apartment complexes, and so on—people who don’t know Christ. Invite them to hang out. They might not be ready right away to join the larger group of Chi Alpha, but that doesn’t in any way stop you from hanging out with them one-on-one, or hanging out with them and their friends.
And that’s the thing—you need to be making friends. You can’t fake a relationship. If you’re faking it, people will notice and they’ll hate it. It’s demeaning to someone if you only pretend to love them. And Christ didn’t command us to pretend to love people. You need to build authentic, loving relationships with people—even, and especially, the unlovable.
You create community the same way you build any friendship—by doing things together, by being together. Create opportunities for people to spend time together. As a student leader, leverage the people around you for this. You probably can’t always be hosting people—if you can, great, but it’s okay to not be able to do it all the time. Leverage your friends, especially those whom you’re discipling to become new student leaders, to help you create community.
And always, always, keep the Gospel. Don’t become a social club. Discipleship is a life-on-life relationship. As you share yourself, you should be sharing Christ because who we are as people is who we are in Christ.