The idea of community is often discussed among millennials. I have been around many tables with friends chatting about the desire for stronger community. We crave deep relationships. Over the past few years, God has had me on a journey of deciphering what community really is. Ironically, I’m learning it’s not what I’ve been told.
Our Western society, both culturally and religiously, does not do community well. The American dream is built on the power of the individual working hard to achieve the individual’s dreams. Our neighborhoods are designed to provide the utmost privacy – we don’t want to know those living around us. The American Church, especially those considered “mega churches”, has had a hard time helping congregants find community. I have been raised in a society that values secretiveness in the hopes of saving face. But true relationships, ones that last a lifetime, are not found in the fake smile often portrayed on a Sunday morning.
The idea of community has changed for me from being about “who I go to church with” to specifically choosing whom I am investing my time with. Through this process, I have found three types of community that are beneficial. Even more importantly, I’ve found a building on a Sunday morning isn’t the only place where these relationships are developed and nurtured.
1. Community with Peers
It might be the most obvious but community with peers is important. We need friends to do life with who are in similar phases of life. It’s been helpful for me to discuss careers and family planning with friends who are also thinking about the same things. We get each other. These are the easiest types of relationships to make but never take them for granted.
2. Community with Mentors
It might be easier to have friends your own age, but it’s a lot more challenging to develop community with those older than us. In my experience, older mentors are always willing to speak into our lives but we have to make the investment of our time. This type of community is pivotal because we need someone to tell us, “It’s going to be okay.” How do older mentors know it’s going to be okay? They have lived longer and experienced more life than us. With many of the questions I have had over the past few years, it has been a relief to have older individuals to help guide me through the unknown. How do you start developing relationships like this? Find someone older that you respect and ask them out for coffee and lunch – see what comes of that!
3. Community with Mentees
The final opportunity for community is with those younger than you. You become the mentor and find someone to share life with who has experienced less than you. For many of the readers, it might be someone in junior high, high school or a new college student. We all need someone to look up to. As you are encouraged and grow with your friends and mentors, you can then invest in others.
So, you found your community. You have people in your life you care about. Below are a few practical tips for developing community and going deeper together:
1. Real Talk
Community is the best place for hard conversations. Life is great but also painful. It’s too easy to smile and respond with “I’m doing good”, when you’re actually experiencing hell. Please, take the time to be real with your friends. Talk about your struggles, fears and insecurities. Your community needs to know what you’re really going through so they can take care of you in the best way possible. This does not mean you need to tell everyone your darkest secrets, but it does mean there should be a few people who know what is actually going on in your life.
2. Eat Food
Dietrich Bonheoffer writes in Life Together, “God cannot endure that unfestive, mirthless attitude of ours in which we eat our bread in sorrow, with pretentious, busy haste…through our daily meals God is calling us to rejoice, to keep holiday in the midst of our working day.” Something special happens when friends come together at the dinner table. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, we consistently see him eating with friends and strangers. The table is a place of equality and vulnerability where we can share openly over a delicious meal.
3. Do Life Together
Life is quite the adventure. There are times of great success and happiness, and also seasons of failure and despair. Community isn’t always “sexy” – it’s not always a perfect Instagram photo of a few friends lounging at the beach. Sometimes it’s late night pick-ups from the airport, or bringing over a meal when someone is sick. We have the honor of living life together, through the good and the bad. Sometimes it will feel wonderful and sometimes it will be a challenge, but it is all a gift.
I encourage you to take the time to invest in community. We were not made to do this alone. Start right where you are at, right now, loving people and serving those around you. And remember deep relationships form where this is honesty and vulnerability. My prayer is that you’ll find security in community as you love others well.
INSTAGRAM & TWITTER: @MATTVNIXON
Matt is on a new journey of discovery as he tries to stop placing God in boxes. He has worked in Admissions at Vanguard University for the past three years. Matt received a BA in Communications from CSU Bakersfield and a MA in Leadership Studies from Vanguard University. He currently resides in beautiful Costa Mesa with his wife. Matt's main life goal is to eat at Del Taco at least once a week.