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How do you build community?

We go to church to worship God together in community.  But too many of us still put on our Sunday best before we go.  We think community is some kind of glorified talent show where we display our gifts to one another.  But it’s the opposite.  We build community by sharing our …
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

We go to church to worship God together in community.  But too many of us still put on our Sunday best before we go.  We think community is some kind of glorified talent show where we display our gifts to one another.  But it’s the opposite.  We build community by sharing our poverty with one another.  That’s the secret of AA – its members know only too well their poverty.  We come together painfully aware of our own shortcomings and issues.  When we compare ourselves with others, we can’t measure up.  We secretly stagger under the burden of trying to keep up appearances and we wonder if anyone could possibly understand our inner turmoil.

Why do I get triple the comments on my blog when I write about an area where I’m weak as I do in describing a strength?  It’s because people realize they’re not as bad as they thought – we all struggle with weaknesses. So, when I share my weakness, it activates community.

When a friend shares their inadequacy, it sparks something inside.  Their success would only underscore our failure.  But when someone shares their poverty, it touches us and disarms us and our own problems don’t seem so big.  We feel compassion and we connect – community is born.

That’s why Jesus began his public ministry (as described in Luke 6) by talking about different kinds of poverty – people who lack money, food, laughter, and acceptance.  Their poverty represents an opportunity for church to be formed.

When we bring our poverty to community it creates the opportunity for love expressed through giving (check out 2 Cor. 8:2-3 on this).  This poverty can only be assuaged when God’s people fill the gaps by giving.  In Luke 6:27-30, Jesus shows us examples of some things we can give.

  •     Give up your right to exclude
  •     Give your blessing
  •     Give away your dignity
  •     Give up your right to ownership

These are all precious gifts that poverty requires.

Think about the times you’ve really connected as a community, times when you’ve clearly had church.  Hasn’t it happened when someone first showed their poverty?  The original church described in Acts 2:45 was activated by poverty and has been the idyllic basis for Christian community ever since.

Illness or disability is a form of poverty.  Karen and I carry with us a permanent sense of poverty because of the disabilities of one of our children.  And we have instant community with parents whose children have similar issues.

When we minister to the poor we connect with God and form community with him.  That’s why giving to widows and orphans, who carry their poverty with them as a part of their identity, is a form of true religion.  Those whose poverty is a part of their identity, people who can’t provide for themselves require our giving and pull compassion out of even the most stony hearts.

To build his church, Jesus leads us into poverty and need.  It’s the birthplace of community.

Comments (14)

  • Excellent and so true. The best time our cell group has had was when we started confessing our fears and times we’d been hurt by fellow Christians. It was an amazing time of community…we really ministered to each other but it was hard to open up and admit.

  • Seth,

    Right on! Great perspective on God’s design for an active and caring body. Pride & ego maybe our downfall.


  • I think you have half of it. Community is also built on people working together to address common needs / interests. I sometimes see the “sharing of poverty” really just a part of the feminization of men in the church (which is really just an outgrowth of trends in contemporary American culture). Sure, we need to be transparent, humble but not embrace and strengthen our weaknesses through so much talk.

  • The women’s community group I am a part of has had incredible brokenness lately, which is creating a community for each other like I have never experienced before. One is battling cancer and fighting for her earthly life, another who has materially had everything is now losing everything in forclosure, another is dealing with a failed marriage, another is dealing with the pain from the death of a son, and I could go on and on. They carried me during my sickness last year when I was so broken and sick. It seems like the more we admit our “poor and neediness” to each other, the more Christ is able to do his work. Yesterday when we were all praying for each other through the tears and pain, God again reminded me like he says in Isaiah that there are treasures hidden in darkness and I really think this authentic, deep community is one of those treasure, but it requires us humbling ourselves in letting each other into those broken places. This is all real life stuff even in the Christian community, and am so thankful for this authentic group of women from my church!

  • Gosh Seth! I don’t know what to say except thank you! You are truly a light in this world and I can tell you are surely after the heart of Jesus! Praise God! Permanent poverty? That is the way I have felt after the death of my 6 month old son who had a genetic disorder. It has changed me completely but I only sincerely wish to use my love for my son for His glory! Thank you for always speaking just what I need to hear.

    My prayers are with you and your family, especially lately.

  • So well put! I never thought of it that way. I only knew that you have to be vulnerable and real to meet people where they are, sharing your hurts and mistakes to really make a God-connection.

  • I agree – great blog and insight into what real community requires of us – that we would realize our own poverty and bring the poor in our midst into deeper communion.

  • marty schoffstall

    poverty? that’s a reach dude.

    community is about doing things sacrficially (even if that “sacrifice” is autonomy) for each other, and for those we never meet, because i left the local or moved on through death.

    Take a look at my post on Tim O’Reilly’s Blog:


    I can take you to some of richest places in the world (Germany) or Richest and Godless (Sweden) and show you community.

    Take off the African Rose Tinted Glasses dude.

    Community is for everyone.

  • how did i miss this blog?

    i love the insight…and so understand the AA reference after our time in Philly.

    i just wrote a blog on community too…check it out!

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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