But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers.
-Jesus, Matthew 23:8
Unfortunately, many are unfamiliar with what brotherhood looks like. Far fewer know how to achieve brotherhood. Because brotherhood helps level the playing field, I think it’s important to answer this question: how do a group of believers become brothers and sisters?
First, the obvious: Brotherhood starts when you have the same parents. I know this seems elementary, but the church can only achieve brotherhood with other born again believers. There can be no brotherhood where God is not our Father through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s through Christ’s atoning death that we are adopted into the family of God as sons and daughters.
But once adopted, there is a practical reality that must be achieved. It does us no good to be brothers and sisters in name only. There are many churches that exist where everyone is called brother so-and-so and sister so-and-so, but the term is only one of false honor and doesn’t hold up in real life.
In my experience, once we’ve established the common ground of the cross of Jesus Christ as the rallying point for our family, the next step is to open up to one another about our weakness. But someone has to go first. In every case, whenever I’ve had a group of believers around me and I haven’t been afraid to show the very ugliest parts of my life to them, it’s allowed them to see me as human. They help me. They lift me up. They are given courage to to show their weakness as well.
And this, friends, is the most basic form of communitas we can achieve as the church. We go from being people competing against each other for superiority into being people who love and support each other in our journey out of brokenness. When we admit we are all messed up–all more ugly than we want to admit–and we all equally need a savior, this is fertile ground for true brotherhood to emerge.
And it’s this true brotherhood, this love that finds one another at the foot of the cross that protects us from believing you or I are higher than the other. And it sustains brotherhood through the glories and successes because we know where we came from and we know we helped each other get there.
So, brothers and sisters, I know I sound like a broken record, but if you don’t have people like this in your life, please find some. Please gather together with broken people who have found Jesus and admit your brokenness. Bring it out into the light. This is what John is saying when he says this:
…[I]f we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another…
-1 John 1:8
Hierarchy ends when brotherhood begins. Brotherhood begins when we gather as broken saints around a saving cross. And this is the birthing of true fellowship.
Community. We all want it. Some of us want it so much that we’ll chase from church to church, person to person, trying to find it.
But community for community’s sake is flawed. In the end it actually kills us. If we pursue community for the sake of having a community for ourselves, we’re really just pursuing an idol that we hope will take care of our us.
But instead, I want to suggest we search for communitas*. For most of us, communitas is a strange word, but it describes the very essence of community that is formed among a group of peers when they go through a dangerous or disorienting experience.
That’s a lot of jargon for something we all know: When you go through something difficult with a group of people, the experience changes you. And it doesn’t just change you, but every person in the group is linked more tightly because of what they’ve experienced.
Think of the WWII or Vientam vets who haven’t seen their fellow soldiers in decades. Yet you put those same guys in a room and give them a little space and it seems as if only minutes had passed since the last time they were together. It’s the same way with guys who have been part of a stable and healthy recovery group or those friends that went with you on that missions trip that one time.
In each scenario, a group of people find themselves in a risky or unknown situation and work through it. You all learn to depend on each other, compensate for each others’ weaknesses, and know each others’ strengths. You bond with each other because you’ve been through some things together. It’s communitas, and it beats community every single time.
The problem with church is that it can look a lot more like a book club than a mission trip. There’s no risky venture attempted with a group of people. Many churches lack the faith of leap. And so they can have as many potlucks and Bible studies as they want to, but community never forms.
I’ve watched house churches struggle with this as well. They’ve pursued perfecting their community before they try to reach out to the lost. They really wanted to be united and built up to the place where they feel they can go on mission together. They pursued community and missed communitas.
But I’ve also seen house churches catch the Lord’s heart for the lost in a way that compels them to take the gospel to dangerous places. These people probably are just as young and immature, but they leap together, putting their trust in Jesus to fill in the gaps. Do things always go perfectly? Rarely. But communitas–the true spirit of community–gets formed in those house churches and a lost world gets reached in the process.
There is a world out there looking for community. They’ll do anything they can to get it. Jesus promised us that if we tried to keep/save our lives we would lose them, but if we laid down our lives for His sake and the sake of the Gospel, we would find it. I believe if we seek community for its own sake we will never find it. But if we lay down our lives and do the dangerous work of bringing Jesus’ message to those who are far from Him, we will find community in deep and rich ways we never thought possible.
So don’t look for community, look for communitas.
* I am again indebted to Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch for their profound book on this subject: The Faith of Leap (affiliate link).
The most transforming relationship that you’ll ever be a part of is a relationship with Jesus.
But once in a relationship with Jesus, He leads us into relationships with His followers that have a transforming affect on our lives.
Transforming relationships are transparent, relational, and accountable.
They begin with transparency. You open up about your weakness and failures, your struggles, and your great need for a savior. Frequently this gives permission for others to be honest about their brokenness in a way that few have ever had. This is usually the missing element in transforming relationships.
Built on transparency, true brotherhood or sisterhood emerges. What wrecks relationships is jealousy, competition, and ego. So with the newfound transparency a true relationship is born. You help each other, not to get, but because you see and understand each other. Mutual relationship gives birth to love which gives birth to serving one another.
And finally (but usually the part we want first) is accountability. Once we have been honest about our weakness and have been in a relationship of love and service to one another, we can hold one another accountable. This isn’t the kind of accountability where you say “Try harder or I’m done with you,” but an accountability that’s birthed out of genuine care for a weak and broken human being. And because it’s birthed out of love and mutual understanding, this type of accountability (along with the power of Jesus) births transformation in the human heart.
We all want these types of relationships. The mechanics of these relationships aren’t difficult. The reason we see so few people enter into them is they are costly. Someone has to go first. But once you’ve had one or two, you’ll never go back.
Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. ‘The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared’ (Luther).
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community
Let him who cannot be alone beware of community… Let him who is not in community beware of being alone… Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer,
You still have time.
There are people you know all around you that are going to be by themselves on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. They may not have family or they may be away from home. They may not be believers: They could be atheists, Hindus, Jews, or Muslims.
Regardless, no one likes to be alone, especially when everyone else is with family and friends celebrating. And this year, probably in a way that is different from many years in the past, it’s easy for people to feel alone in our culture even if people are all around them.
So, it’s not too late. Invite an international or a friend with no family to join you as you celebrate. It will be a great chance to love and serve someone. It will also be a great chance to talk about the greatness of Jesus and the reason you celebrate.
Christmas is in two days. But you can still impact a life. Invite someone to join you.
Today I met with a cross section of men from our house church network to talk about and work through issues that are affecting our churches. The discussion was great and one of the things that I loved about it was the mutuality. Quickly it became clear that there was no guru in the group and that everyone could learn from each other. And it was this back and forth, giving and receiving that allowed for hearts to open up, ministry to happen, and for us to be able to rely on each other a little bit more.
I’m continually amazed how much humility and not lifting yourself up above another allows for more ministry to happen, not less. So often the church thinks it needs to be the other way around. Most of the time we are caught up trying to prove we are at least as spiritual, if not more so, than the person next to us. When I try and prove how much better I am than others, not much ministry happens. And yet, when I humble myself and live from the place of being as weak or weaker than everyone else in the room, that’s when people become vulnerable and real service to each other happens.
During my day, I had the opportunity to share with a brother about some limits he was artificially putting on himself. And because we were listening to each other, I was able to hear his heart and he was able to receive when I gently pushed on him to reconsider some of the limits he was placing on himself.
Friends, we desperately need brothers and sisters like this in the body of Christ. We need people who know us, can see us better than we see ourselves, and can help us get out of the ruts that we sometimes find ourselves in. The body grows itself by learning how to speak the truth to each other in love. This is so hard to do but its one of the main ways the Bible describes us growing into the image of Christ.
Beloved, find friends who will tell you the truth in love. Find brothers and sisters in Christ who will call you forward into who God has called you to be. It’s a way forward in an age that wants to deceive us and isolate us. Don’t give in to the shallow relationships that are only about competition and vanity. Don’t settle for relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ that are only an inch deep. There’s transforming relationships out there that are rooted and Christ and they are worth pursuing.
It’s worth it. I don’t promise it, but Jesus does.