Common Life

the bestI know that it might surprise a few of you who know me to find out that I am an introvert. This doesn’t mean that I’m asocial or don’t like people. In fact, I love to spend time with friends and family. What it does mean is that I do most of my processing in my head and find rest in quiet alone (or mostly alone) times. That being said, however, I am coming to recognize the value of being in community with others. By that, I don’t simply mean being around other people. What I mean is sharing our lives, experiences, and even hard times with others.

As a society, true community is a necessity that we have learned to go without. We have created a culture of isolation where we fence off ourselves more and more in our homes around media and our devices. It seems like very few people know their neighbors and share very little of our lives with those outside of our families. And in some ways media and social media have increased our isolation by creating the appearance of being connected with people while having very little connection with others.

N. T. Wright translates Acts 2:42 as, “They all gave full attention to the teaching of the apostles and to the common life, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” [1] When I read this, it quickly became my favorite translation of this verse. Two things strike me as helpful. First, while most translations use the word “devoted” in the beginning part of the verse, Wright uses “gave full attention.” Second, instead of fellowship he uses, “the common life” to describe the community of the church. We can see in this passage (and also in Acts 4) that the church does life together. They met together on a daily basis. They gave their full attention to meeting together. It was a high priority. While those of us in the 21st century meet together once a week or less. And even when we get together, we aren’t really a community, we are as Randy Frazee says in his book Connecting Church 2.0,  “a collection of individuals who are primarily concerned about our own wants and needs, not as a community united around a common cause, concern, or purpose.” [2]

What I’m not saying is that we all have to be best friends and move in together. Although, I just saw on the news that companies are beginning to recognize the value and appeal of shared work and living spaces. What I’m beginning to learn through my own experience, and what I hope that others will recognize, is that a church is to be a community of people who give their full attention to a common life. We support and encourage one another. We take care of and comfort one another in times of need. We learn and share what we are learning with each other. We share with each other our struggles and pray for one another. We play and eat together. When we do this, we become the family of God and become a community that others want to be a part of.

If you want to know how to really grow a church, I believe it’s through community. At the end of a beautiful description of what the community of Jesus looked like in Acts 2:42-46, we find in verse 47 that God was adding to their number every day. I believe in part that is because they were being faithful to be a community where everyone was loved and taken care of and people were attracted to the common life of the early church.

Now, what does this mean for us? Does it mean we start up a commune and live in a shared space, probably not, although some people choose to do something kind of like that. What I believe it means is that we need to begin including participation in the community of Jesus a lot higher on the priority levels than many of us do. Weekly attendance at church is a good place to start. Actively being involved in a small group or other kind of group in your church is another great step. After that, look for ways to meet other peoples needs and share more of your life together.

I believe that if more churches gave full attention to the common life, we would see more people wanting to be a part of churches. Deep down we all want to belong to a community and Acts 2:42-47 sounds like a good community to be a part of.

[1] Tom Wright, Acts for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-12 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2008), 43.
[2] Randy Frazee. The Connecting Church 2.0: Beyond Small Groups to Authentic Community (Kindle Locations 384-387). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

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