This post is by Rachel Herbeck
As a community of missionary disciples, we aren’t just a community when we gather at a Disciples Night, or when we are with a certain group of people, or attending an event. We are called to live out community in our everyday lives. A big part of this call is creating community with those who are around you. For many of us, we are blessed with awesome friends. But there is a difference between having a group of friends and building community among your friends. I am convicted that part of living out a life of authentic discipleship is making your group of friends into an unofficial community.
To understand a little bit more of what we’re getting at, let’s look at the disciples. In the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus’ disciples committed themselves to praying together, breaking bread together, giving up their possessions and living communally. After the disciples encountered Jesus and became committed to His mission, they became more committed to each other. They chose to do certain things as a group that would help them carry out the mission given to them by Jesus. As true disciples, don’t we want the mission of Jesus to permeate every aspect of our lives? We don’t just want to be groups of nice people, but as Pope Francis articulates, we want to build communities of encounter; places where people come and can encounter Christ.
I want to share with you some practical tips for building community, not just friendships.
- Pray together. This may seem obvious, or you may talk about the Lord and take personal prayer times. But taking the time to seek the Lord together is powerful. That doesn’t mean you have to have a prayer meeting every time you get together, but make it a priority to actually pray together as friends. This can be as simple as saying night prayers at the end of a night of hanging out. I have a few friends that whenever we grab coffee to catch up, we always end our time together with a prayer. It is so simple, yet it underscores that Jesus stands at the center of our relationships.
- Host people in the place you call home. If you are unable to host, partner up with some of your friends that can. Teaming up with friends to host people is a very practical way of inviting people into your life. It gives you an opportunity to serve people together in an intentional yet casual way. Maybe you make a commitment amongst your friends to take turns hosting a Lord’s Day one Saturday a month, where you all eat and pray together, and take time to welcome the Sabbath day. Maybe you institute a game night or have regular bonfires throughout the summer. Take turns inviting some friends from work, invite friends of friends and make an effort to get to know them, or invite a family over from your parish. The goal is for our friends to come together to get in the habit of reaching out and bringing others into our lives.
- Help each other evangelize. Talk about how evangelization is going. When I think about Peter and the early Apostles, I honestly think this was all they could talk about. After walking with Jesus and receiving the power of the Holy Spirit, I can only imagine how they were supporting and encouraging each other as they were bursting at the seams to get Christ’s message out. I’m sure there was no shortage of discussion in the Upper Room about how to bring more of Jesus’ saving message. Ask each other on a weekly basis how you have shared Jesus with someone else.
Along with evangelizing on your own and sharing the fruits, evangelize together. When you’re walking with someone who is growing in or coming to the faith, involve your friends! Seeing the witness of Christ-centered friendships and lives of virtue are such key parts of evangelization. There have been a few times where I have told my friends that I am hanging out with someone over who wants more of the Lord, and I have seen my friends go out of their way to get to know that person, make them feel welcomed, or even start their own friendship with them. Going back to the Apostles, post-Ascension and Pentecost, I know they were pumped whenever anyone was coming to know the Lord. Imagine John, out and about, preaching the Gospel, when he meets a guy who is struck to the core by his message, and he ends up inviting him for dinner. I imagine Peter and the others welcoming him, sitting at table, asking about his life and his family. Not only do we want to encourage each other, but we want to accompany our friends as they accompany others.
Sometimes I’m tempted to tone down the amount of intentionality and intensity with which I live for the Lord. The devil wants us to find reasons to compartmentalize our lives and keep certain things for ourselves. When I begin to approach my friendships in this way, I sometimes feel daunted by the lies that say, “Seriously? These are your friends that you have fun with, don’t make this more than it is” or “Just keep these relationships for yourself, you don’t need to be that intense about this whole community thing.” But those are lies perpetuated by the devil to stop the fruit that the Lord wants to bear in our relationships. As disciples, everything is for Jesus, everything is for His Kingdom and for His glory. Taking some steps to transform our relationships from friendly to communal is a practical way that we can continue to invite Christ into every aspect of our lives.