What is church? How do we define it when our definitions change over time and can depend on a number of variables such as the passing of time and the experience of crises? When do we lose track of what it means and how? How do we bring meaning back to the word?
I wasn’t sure how to define church in early 2020, and if truth be told, before the lockdowns began, I didn’t even know I would have to revisit the concept of church.
The women had a front-row seat as the men in our circles experienced real life together — studying, praying, and serving each other. Together they were recreating the church of the first Christians. I wanted in, and other wives did as well. So we began our own weekly Bible study. Each Tuesday, we gathered as women — same structure, same vision. We entered inspired and hopeful. Eager and vulnerable, we tended to each other’s needs with a simple group text thread.
As we worked together in community, I was reminded of something the ancient apologist Blaise Pascal once wrote about a great wager that everyone must make. He urged his readers to bet on God in this wager, for “if you win you win everything” — truth, happiness, and the good — and “if you lose you lose nothing. Do not hesitate then; wager that he does exist.” Investing in community is the same kind of wager. If we win, we win a full and flourishing life, and if we lose, we’ve made a lot of friends to help us endure the hardship.
We began waking up together — waking to passion and purpose, to conviction, to what it means to be the church. Our awakening propelled us to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world around us. We were being revived one by one, and once we’re revived personally, we begin to be revived corporately.
Our community began hosting town hall meetings with local business owners, curating conversations with city leaders, laying groundwork for community gardens, planning schooling alternatives, and organizing medical support for frontline workers. Just as in the book of Acts, numbers were being added to the men’s Bible study and community initiatives by the day. The women were activated too, and we looked for ways to serve one another, starting a group text thread to facilitate needs.
- Who needs prayer?
- Who needs a meal or a care basket because of a loss?
- Who needs a ride?
- Anyone requiring a doctor recommendation?
- Who needs a wedding venue because their previously chosen venue closed its doors?
It wasn’t just the text thread. We rolled up our sleeves and got about our work of being the church. We hosted “church” on our front lawn because we couldn’t forsake our “meeting together” (Hebrews 10:25). Family blankets took the place of pews. One family led worship from their blanket, with my friend Christy leading the chorus and her husband, Nathan, accompanying with his guitar. Another family read Scripture and led a discussion. Since each family brought their own Communion elements, other families led in the time of Communion and prayer.
By early summer, the First Front Lawnist Church of Franklin was on a roll. Not only were we hosting worship gatherings, but on one beautiful May Saturday, we hosted a wedding for Molly and Peter, one of the men in this multigenerational community. Because every venue was shut down, we created our own.
The families and several guests gathered — seated in a dozen or so wooden chairs under a canopy of trees, with wind chimes as our backdrop. A path meandered down the slope to a short hop over the stream for the bride’s entrance. It was a full Lyons family affair, with Pierce playing guitar, Joy serving as flower girl, and Gabe and I reading the Scriptures. It was glorious.
Real-life church services brought a breath of fresh air, particularly for our kiddos. The extended isolation was hitting them hard, especially those with differing abilities who were nonverbal. During the many months of not meeting together, events were canceled, including our annual Best Buddies prom. Live events were substituted with online events, which weren’t necessarily helpful for everyone, including Cade, our son with Down syndrome.
A couple families had seen how much our in-person community lawn gatherings had helped Cade, and they decided to put on the best prom ever for Cade and many friends in our community. It was a highlight of their spring.
In our first five years in Franklin, we thought we had been “doing community.” We attended church regularly and would often have people in our home for dinner or impromptu parties. In 2020, we learned a different way of being a true Christian community. It was the kind of community that depended on one another, not just as some sought-after Christian ideal, but as a genuine mechanism for flourishing.
We depended on one another for even our most basic needs — food, fellowship, and even the occasional financial need. We came to realize that resilient lives are not formed in isolation; resilient lives are forged in community.
The Church Is a Communal People Created by a Communal God
In what became known as His “farewell discourse,” Jesus prayed for a unified community, a collective church that was bigger than any one individual:
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as We are one — I am in them and You in Me — so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me. — John 17:20-23
- In the same way that God has inherent interpersonal relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so Jesus prays that we will be image bearers of God in the way we participate in our own community.
In the book of Acts, we see the first vision of Jesus’ prayer come to fruition when the Holy Spirit is poured out on the people of God and the church comes into existence.
Jesus recognized that the church is made up of individuals who believe in Him, but He did not simply pray for “them alone.” He prayed for them together — in community. He prayed for our relationship with one another, that we would experience the kind of relationship He has with God the Father — a relationship of complete unity. That prayer for unity came to life in the earliest gatherings of the church. It came to life in our own gatherings too.
What did we find?
In a unified community, we found a more holistic version of resilience. We became an unshakable community that helped meet one another’s needs. This began to spread to our broader community among friends in other cities.
We are far more resilient as a whole community than as self-sufficient individuals. The difference is staggering. When the Holy Spirit unites His people, the church, through consistent commitment to the Scriptures, prayer, and one another, a holistic resilience emerges that becomes unshakable both in the individual and in the group. It’s an irrepressible force that creates a more resilient world.
We Were Made to Need One Another
We live in an individualistic society, one that teaches us that self-sufficiency is resilience. We were not made to resist adversity alone; we were made to have our needs met in community, which is why resilience isn’t cultivated in a vacuum.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognizes the role of community in building resilience: “Community health resilience measures the ability of people, businesses, governments, nonprofit groups, and faith-based organizations to work together to create systems that can withstand, adapt to, and recover from a public health emergency.”
- True community reminds you who you really are.
A community of like-minded people calls forth the character and integrity they believe you embody. They hold you accountable so that your inside matches your outside, your private life matches your public life. It reminds you that you’re stronger than you think, you’re braver than you think, you’re more loved than you think.
Christ-centered community reminded me of who I really was and called forth character and integrity in me and others. Christ-centered community encouraged each of us to use our gifts for the good of the group and to press into our purpose and calling. As a result, we became an Acts 2 community, the by-product of seeking the Word together, which cultivated a unity pointing to the kingdom where every need is expressed and people respond to meet it. It was that community that made us a truly resilient people.
Adapted with permission from Building a Resilient Life: How Adversity Awakens Strength, Hope, and Meaning by Rebekah Lyons, copyright Rebekah Lyons.
You were built for community. Being individualistic might seem easier (It isn’t.), but we need people. God intended us to know each other, serve each other, love each other, and receive that in return to glorify Him and exemplify Him! ~ Devotionals Daily