by Jake Ledet
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers. Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with a joyful and humble attitude, praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47, HCSB)
This is a beautiful picture of the early church.
As we read this passage, surely we are moved and stirred. This sounds like such an idealistic picture, but the only thing that keeps it from being idealistic is that it is true. It is real people, really interacting, that have really been changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s good stuff.
Church leaders should lay this picture before our people as something to pursue. It is right to use this passage to motivate, and it is right to use this passage to reveal superficiality in our own community. The same Holy Spirit they had, we have.
But this passage should never communicate that being in healthy gospel community is easy.
There is often an idealism that accompanies community groups, small groups, missional communities… whatever you want to call them. But if we just look at the same church in Acts chapter 5, we see a couple drop dead because they lied to the Holy Spirit. And just a bit later we see a dispute over ethnicity when the Hellenist widows were being overlooked. Scripture is replete with the various aspects of people living life together. So as beautiful as Acts 2:42-47 is, it’s not a complete picture of the early church. It’s far messier.
I remember when I began transitioning our church to this model and I was talking with a pastor years ahead of me in the process. I shared with him how everyone was on board and excited about moving in this direction. His reply in seeing my excitement and optimism was, “It’s going to be much harder than you think.” He was absolutely right.
This is important to understand because it’s easy to have a grand picture of what living in Christian community looks like. But we should consider whether idealism is actually getting in the way of experiencing good gospel community. If we are leading people to an idealistic view of community then they are going to be disappointed and disillusioned when it actually gets hard.
I also remember hearing Steve Timmis say at a conference that he would like to define community as, “doing what you don’t want to do with people you don’t want to do it with.” This is a much better definition of community than isolating passages in Scripture.
But in our idealistic view of Christian community, we think people are going to be awesome, relationships are going to be deep and light at just the appropriate times, and even when it is hard there is going to be something cool about that. Everyone will be singing along to the Lego movie song, “Everything is awesome!” But time will eventually reveal that everything isn’t awesome. Stepping in mud doesn’t really give you a new pair of brown shoes (also from the Lego Movie song).
Community is mostly hard, often frustrating, and sometimes crippling. And when those who are fed idealism realize that pursuing community doesn’t feel awesome, they’ll get discouraged and defeated.
Turn to the Gospel
If this has happened to you, maybe your hopes of good gospel community haven’t been crushed, just your idealistic view of community. And maybe that is a good thing. When we pursue the biblical ideal of community with a keen awareness that it isn’t always going to be perfect, we get much closer to experiencing biblical community. We start to see that all of Scripture, not just the end of Acts 2, gives a broad picture of community as it really is.
The truth is that idealism is the easiest motivation to lead people in community. No one wants to jump into what turns out to be a consistently uncomfortable situation. But people will get crushed if we aren’t communicating the reality of community. And they won’t experience the joy of the gospel found in community with other believers.
Let’s build community on the gospel. The gospel will never be crushed. And because of the gospel, we will one day experience community that is better than our best ideal. But in the here and now, when leading a people on mission is hard, we remember that we have a missionary God that found us in the muck and mire. When leading people to confess and repent in community is hard, we get to walk in confession and repentance of our impatience and judgment because of the gospel. We get to fight through the adversity by the power of the Spirit who is constantly conforming us to the image of Christ. When group leaders aren’t getting it, we can turn to our God that is patient with us when we don’t get it.
Idealism will suck the life out of your ability to lead a people on mission. But we can, by the grace of God, offer and live in community that is saturated in the gospel. The gospel continually refreshing our souls will overflow into leading people in real, messy, hard, beautiful, rich, Christ-exalting community.
We crush idealism by pointing to the gospel. There is no other way. May God help us.