A person does not need a theological degree to pick up the biblical emphasis on community.
In Genesis, we read that God created humanity for fellowship with God and then created the family unit of the man and woman.
God called Abram out of Ur to father a nation of people. The children of Israel struggled to be a community of people who supported one another in their devotion to God.
Christ called to himself a group of disciples so that he might share with them and begin forming them as apostles of the faith.
Through the work of the spirit, the church—a community of the faithful—came into being after Pentecost.
Paul and his team went about the Mediterranean world planting communities of the faithful.
Finally, early Christian scholars perceived the doctrine of the Trinity out of the scriptural witness—a mysterious communal relationship between creator, redeemer and spirit that has existed through eternity.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the Christian life is not meant to be a solitary pursuit.
Our vertical relationship with God finds expression in a horizontal relationship with other believers.
Although not always an easy task, we are called to learn, share and work together as the people of God.
This ongoing work takes place in the larger fellowship of our faith community called the church, but more often in a small group setting where we can share openly.
We join together with other believers who are committed to the faith journey and learn what it means to be in fellowship with one another and with God. This is God’s plan expressed eloquently in Ephesians 4:15-16.
Although Paul was not a systemic theologian or a small group facilitator, his writing in Ephesians about the way the spirit works to create a community of believers provides some ideas about what is necessary for a group to grow in spiritual maturity, service and unity:
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12).
The various leadership roles in the life of the church have one primary purpose: “to equip [Christ’s] people.”
Those who are leaders of a group invest themselves in others. They call out the best in the group members and encourage them to stretch their boundaries as believers.
The “works of service” are the ministries that believers perform. These works grow out of one’s relationship to Christ and are not intended to earn salvation but are instead a sign that one is already “in Christ.”
These works of service may be internal to the group—serving sisters and brothers in Christ—or external acts of service to those outside the fellowship.
Leadership and service help to build Christian community. We are called to “unity in the faith” by sharing, learning and serving together.
As we work together, we learn more about each other and our experiences in Christ who has called us. In this process, we are also being formed as disciples.
Believers challenge and encourage one another in their journeys of discipleship. All of these are necessary to a healthy, growing group of believers—leadership, ministry, community and formation.
Only in recent years have I come to see the doctrine of the Trinity as essential to a full understanding of community and to healthy group formation.
The interaction of God as creator, redeemer and sustainer—Father, Son and Spirit—provides fresh insight into God’s expectations for any community of believers.
In his book, “Discovering the Other: Asset-Based Approaches for Building Community Together,” Cameron Harder asserts that the Trinity should be “the source and model for our human community.”
Molly Marshall, in an article in the Review and Expositor journal, suggests that the practices of “generativity, humility, hospitality, diversity” result from shared life together based on God’s triune existence.
The example of the Trinity calls us to the highest and most productive expression of relationship and community.
Ircel Harrison is coaching coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates and is associate professor of ministry praxis at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, BarnabasFile, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @ircel.
Ircel Harrison is coaching coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates and is supplemental associate professor of missional theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary.