In an article in Perspectives in Religious Studies more than a decade ago, Baptist historian Walter Shurden commented on the organic tension in Baptist life between individualism and community. In the article, he affirmed that “Baptist life historically affirms the theme of ‘the individual in community.'”
In reality, we Baptists have too often emphasized individualism (me and Jesus) over being part of community. We have tended to think more about our personal relationship with God rather than being part of the community of faith. This is one of those situations where it is not a choice of one or the other; we need both.
After I wrote recently on the need for community in the Christian life, I received some responses asking, “What does this look like?” I think that most of us realize that, as followers of Christ, we need to be part of a community where Christ is present. Matthew 18:20 says, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” So how do we become part of a community gathered around the Master?
- We need to be part of a community that is centered in the Word of God. In such a setting, we not only talk about the Scriptures, we let the Scriptures speak to us. We also learn from the way that the Scriptures speak to others. Together, we come to an understanding of what the Bible is saying to the community as well.
- We engage in prayer with others and for others. In such a context, silence has a place. We can learn much from the Quakers in their openness to listen for the voice of God in the silence of community.
- We become accountable to others in the community. This is probably the hardest thing for us to do, but in allowing others to hold us accountable for our walk with God, we are ultimately yielding ourselves to God and not the community.
- We serve together. We become part of a community that is not only internally focused but externally focused as well. We seek God’s mission and then live it.
- We practice agape love. We recognize that God’s love is a gift to us that we gratefully accept and freely share with others.
Have I found such a group? I have been privileged to be part of such a community for a few brief times in my life. I continue to seek for such a fellowship because I know that the Master has called me to be part of community in order to know Him more fully.
Ircel Harrison is an associate with Pinnacle Leadership Associates and director of the Murfreesboro Center of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. A version of this column appeared previously on his blog.
Ircel Harrison is coaching coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates and is supplemental associate professor of missional theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary.