True Christian community isn't as delicate as we might assume. We're imperfect people who worship the same perfect Savior, so our church relationships need to be able to weather disagreements, hurts, and offense. But that's not always the case. Some attitudes and behaviors consistently undermine the effectiveness of a church community.
Here are four things that make it difficult for community to thrive.
1. Romanticizing community
The way we talk about Christian community can set us up with impossible expectations. We end up with a mental picture similar to an ant colony; everyone does their part, and things keep running smoothly. But when you start really paying attention to the New Testament, you recognize that community is a lot more complicated than that.
For instance, no one would doubt Paul's love and commitment to Jesus and the church, but when he and Barnabas argue over whether to take John Mark out on their second missionary journey, they end up separating (Acts 15:36–41). Sincerity isn't always a safeguard against offense and frustration. Throughout Paul's Epistles, he encourages reconciliation and tries to solve some of the disagreements springing up among these new believers.
When we expect community to be free of irritation and resentment, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Freedom from annoyance shouldn't be what sets Christian community apart, but rather the distinction is found in our response to offense and our quickness to reconcile.
2. Having a consumer mindset
It's fallen human nature to approach everything with a mindset that says, "What am I going to get out of this?" But when we approach community this way, we end up strip-mining all of its best resources without replenishing them.
In Philippians 2, Paul encourages the church to have the humble mindset we see in Jesus. When we approach community as servants instead of consumers, we're able to give time, attention, love, and resources to others—and we get to receive them, too! Because as we seek to serve others, they're serving us.
3. Gossip, gossip, gossip
Proverbs tells us that "Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down" (Proverbs 26:20). The author's point is that gossip provides critical fuel to keep a feud going. Gossip is the act of sharing rumors or intimate details about someone without their consent or knowledge.
Gossip undermines community because it destroys reputations and erodes trust. It feeds people's desire for salacious and sensational information. And like a fire, it spreads. When we share gossip, it's like handing someone a treasure that's only valuable when it's passed on. The only way we can get gossip under control is if we let it die, and that can only happen when we value community over the intoxicating thrill of sharing juicy gossip.
4. Assuming everyone is the same
Christian community truly functions when everyone feels safe to be their authentic selves. The Holy Spirit is at work in the lives of Christians, and we're all at different places in the process. This work becomes a lot more difficult when people feel the need to pretend that they're further along in the process than they are.
One way that we undermine community is to assume that the people around us have the same opinions and perspectives that we do, or when we forget that people's struggles are different than ours. So when we make statements about certain kinds of sinners or stereotypes about people who hold specific viewpoints, we're forgetting that people around us could be struggling with those very things. And we communicate that they need to hide those things from us or we won't accept them.
The goal for Christian community is for us to walk in the light as He is in the light (1 John 1:7). And that can only happen when people feel safe to walk in the light. We might be entirely right about some ideas or behaviors being incompatible with Christianity, but if we're not sensitive, we can encourage people around us to keep those things hidden in the darkness instead of exposed to the light. So while we don't want to shy away from speaking truthfully, we want to be very careful about speaking in a way that communicates that we lean more toward judgment than mercy.
We are ministers of reconciliation
In 2 Corinthians 5:11–21, Paul talks about the fact that God has initiated the process of reconciling us to Him, and He has given us the ministry of reconciliation. This means that we are to place a premium on maintaining healthy relationships full of grace and forgiveness. We're definitely going to irritate and antagonize one another, so we need to lead with mercy and grace.
If you're interested in learning about what the Bible has to say about this integral topic, check out the post What Does the Bible Say About Reconciliation?