I have heard many people say something along these lines: “I love Jesus, but I don’t love the Church,” or, “You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” Typically the people saying things like this have had an experience with Christians that has put a bad taste in their mouth. Unfortunately, that kind of experience is not all that uncommon. After all, we are all sinful, fallen people in need of grace.
Despite this, my intention is to make an argument for the absolute necessity of the Church in the life of a Christian, however imperfect that Church may be. We simply were not designed to walk this life alone. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says:
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either one of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Relationship is built into the very core of who we are, and our deepest desires and needs reflect this.
In Genesis 2:18, God is finishing the work of Creation. He has just created Adam and says, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Right off the bat, we see a definitive statement from God about our design for relationship. Adam did not need another person, technically. God is able to provide everything that we need. He is the one who created us, after all. But in this moment, God looks at Adam and declares that it is good for Adam to be in community with another person.
From the beginning, God made us so that we are better together. Even our core needs and desires point to this. We are all created with emotional needs that we can only get from other people, and this propels us into relationship. John Townsend calls these needs “relational nutrients.” In his book People Fuel, Townsend identifies twenty-four unique relational nutrients that we need from others and have the ability to give to others. For example, we all have the need to be accepted, to be seen, to be comforted, to be encouraged, to be forgiven, to be given insight and feedback, to be confronted, to be given advice, and to be challenged, among other things. (For the full list of relational nutrients, follow the link in the notes below.) None of these are things that we can do as effectively on our own.
We see examples of community in the early days of the Church in Scripture. For example, in Acts 2:1-13 the believers in Jerusalem were meeting together during Pentecost. Later, in verses 42-47, we read that the Christian believers were “together and had everything in common.” From the very beginning of the Church, people were in the practice of being in community with each other. Even early missionaries, when they traveled, did not go out alone. Paul traveled with Barnabas, Timothy, and Silas. Some of these men were joined at other times by Priscilla, Aquila, and Apollos, among others.
So what is the benefit of being in community? Why did the early Church (and the Church as a whole even up to today) devote themselves to being together? What do we get out of being in relationship with other believers that we miss out on when we are alone?
The first thing that we would miss out on is the encouragement of other believers. Paul urges the Thessalonians to do this in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, which says, “Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” The author of Hebrews in Hebrews 3:13 writes, “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called, ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” And Luke takes note of the disciples encouraging one another in Acts 15:32, which says, “Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers.”
Sometimes life is difficult, but all the much more if you have to go through that difficulty alone. Discouragement comes. Disappointments are guaranteed. Mistakes happen. Circumstances change. We get tired and jaded. We get burnt out. It is in these moments that we desperately need each other to encourage us to keep fighting the good fight. When The Israelite army is fighting the Amalekite army in Exodus 17:8-13, the Israelites begin to win every time Moses holds his arms up. Moses was able to do this for a while, but he began to get tired. When this happened, he began to drop his hands, and the Israelites started losing. So Aaron and Hur came up to Moses, sat him down, and held his arms up for him until the Amalekites were defeated. When we grow weary, we can be like Aaron and Hur to each other.
Another advantage to being in community is the accountability we receive from each other. James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” In Galatians 6:1-2, Paul instructs the Galatians with, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
If we are alone, the opportunity for our sins to get the best of us is greatly increased. But when we are in community with each other, and we are all pursuing Christ together, we have the opportunity to bring each other’s sins into the light so that those sins may be eradicated. This is a gift to those of us who desire to be more like Jesus and to walk in step with him.
We also would miss out on various gifts of the Spirit if we were not in community with each other. None of us is single-handedly a full representative of Christ. We all work together to form one body. 1 Corinthians 12:12 says, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” Paul says right before this in verse 7 that each of these different gifts that people have within the body of Christ are “for the common good.” The spiritual gifts are gifts from God to his people through his people.
And lastly, we would miss out on wisdom if we were to isolate from each other. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” And in Proverbs 27:17, we see that “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” We have an opportunity to learn from each other that we do not have when we try to walk this life alone. Proverbs 11:14 confirms that “…victory is won through many advisers.” When we isolate, we run the risk of our own biases and blind spots keeping us from deeper wisdom.
I work at a Christian residential leadership program called Cubed Living. At Cubed Living, community is at the very center of everything that we do. We do a lot of leadership training and ministry coaching, but all of that happens within the context of our young adult students living together and pursuing the same goals. Because of the community aspect of what we do, the coaching and training we do is unable to remain abstract; it becomes immediately applicable. This actually causes very rapid personal growth in our students.
At Cubed Living, I have seen all of the above benefits of community play out before my eyes. Just the other day, one of my students went out of his way to find out who had been organizing birthday cards for everyone in the house just to tell her that she was doing a great job staying on top of it. Another student took the time to just sit and hug another student who had had a bad day. There was even a night where our students went around and told each other specific areas of strength and gifting that each of them had.
I’ve seen the accountability, too. It may seem small, but keeping the house clean is actually a never-ending problem. Our students have begun to call each other out on this, encouraging those who shirk their responsibilities that, “Those who are entrusted with a little will be entrusted with a lot.” In addition, some of my guys have begun getting together on Thursday evenings to pray for each other and hold each other accountable to their Scripture reading.
We have a pretty diverse group of people in the house, too, which allows for the experience of many different giftings. Some of our students are real encouragers. Some are natural teachers. Some have unwavering faith. Some are wise beyond their age. In community, these gifts are experienced and shared among the group.
Our students learn from each other, too, and are able to grow in wisdom as they walk with each other through uncomfortable growing pains.
As a result of all these things, I see a group of young people who, when they go out into the world, are confident and equipped for the good work of ministry. And when life gets hard, either from mistakes they make or from no fault of their own, they lean into the discomfort knowing that it is an opportunity for sanctification and intimacy with Jesus.
I don’t know what your relational network looks like, but if you do not have much of one, I urge you strongly to start today. You need other people. And they need you. Don’t let Satan draw you away from the community where you are vulnerable. Stand firm arm in arm with other believers as you walk this life together. You don’t have to start big. At the very least, find three key people: someone pouring into you, someone you are pouring into, and someone to walk alongside you. I guarantee that you will be better together!