Why is community important?
Mark Ashbaugh | August 23, 2017
I read recently that last year's freshman are the loneliest class to enter college that they have on record. Why is that? What makes these students lonelier than ever? Perhaps it's the prevalence of social media and the immediacy of friends all within the confines of a phone in their back pocket. It could be that our culture is turning into a shame culture. One mislabeled post, one comment on the 'wrong side of history,' and friends will turn on you until you recant and line up with the acceptable beliefs of the moment. Or maybe it's coming from a broken home. Regardless of the why, students are longing for something they were made for, community.
Like everyone, college students are made in the image of God. They yearn for the perfect community that God has been in and always will be in with himself, as the trinity: one God, three persons. As God is in complete community with himself, we are called to be in community with one another as well. This is clearly evident in the Apostle Paul's conversion, one of the most well known Christians of all time. He wrote half of the letters in the New Testament, yet, before Paul was converted he was Saul, a great persecutor of Christians. In the book of Acts it says Saul “dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3). In chapter 9 the author records Saul was “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.”
However, by God's grace, Jesus confronted Paul and transformed his heart. What does this have to do with loneliness? Imagine the thoughts running through Paul's head. Here is a great persecutor of Christians, a hater of God's people, and a person who did much evil to the disciples of the Lord. In committing his life to Jesus, like every other Christian, Paul had to leave his old life behind. For some, that means losing everything. For Paul, that's probably exactly what it meant. Some believe that Paul's family would have cut him off the moment he called himself a Christian, including his own mother.
With this in mind, envision the fear of not being welcomed in Jesus' community. Do you remember going to a new school as child? Or when your family had to move to a new town because of a change in jobs? For the first time in your life you have to find a new church family. What if no one talks to you? Will these strangers accept you? Will Jesus still love you?
But, here is the beauty of God's mercy and love. Jesus doesn't leave Paul alone. He doesn't send Paul on his mission to the Gentiles by himself. No, Jesus calls Ananias to lay hands on Paul, and the first word out of Ananias' mouth is “brother.” Imagine the relief, peace, and comfort Paul must have felt. He is not alone and he is not hated. After everything he had done to Christians, to people Ananias may have known and loved, the grace and peace of God's people welcomed Paul into their lives.
Our lives are not meant to be lived alone, but our culture continually points to self-autonomy as the virtue of our age. The Bible constantly pushes against this. Paul wasn't called by Jesus to independence, he was called into community, into fellowship with the family of God. It's not always easy. The people of God are often just as messy and broken as the rest of the world. But, that's what Christians are made for and called to be in, community.
I believe this is why every student answers the question, “Why RUF?” with “community.” They recognize that they weren't made to be alone, that they were designed to be known by a group of people who will love them despite their weaknesses and flaws. Students keep coming back to RUF because RUF is a community grounded in the scriptures of Jesus' grace for a lonely and needy people. Of course this doesn't mean that loneliness goes away. It will always be here until Jesus returns. Yet, if we are made in the image of God, then we are created to be in community, and that community best reflects the glory of God among the body of Christ resting in faith in Jesus.