Facebook has over a billion active users. Their mission? To “make the world more open and connected." The slightly younger Instagram has several hundred million smart phone photographers who “capture and share the world’s moments.” In a fast paced and disjointed world people are craving connection. Without a doubt, social media platforms connect people in beautiful ways. But swiping through the highlight reel of people’s lives leaves us longing for more than a filtered glimpse of reality. Deep down in our souls we know we were made for more than glossy representations of our broken, messy, beautiful lives. Since the garden, we have lived with an ache to be known and yet unashamed. Just like our original father and mother we hide behind polished projections that are nothing more than elaborate fig leaves. We long to be accepted without having to play the social charade. We long to live in true community.
For believers to earnestly live the kingdom life, authentic community is not only helpful, it is a necessity. But in our program-filled, event-driven churches, many Christians settle for polite platitudes and surface conversations while cramming church activities into an already impossible schedule. The days turn to months, and the months turn to years before some people realize they have attended hundreds of church services and never developed more than a casual friendship with other believers. Sure, they may share their “praise reports” with their Sunday School class, but do they have a community of believers with whom they can share the deepest hopes and fears of their souls? Sadly, most Christians do not.
This was not the spirit of the early church. Contrast our “service attendance“ driven culture with Acts 2:47-49 – “44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
They met in the temple courts and their homes. They weren’t just attending programs at the local synagogue. They were sharing their lives together. Faith and community were not items checked off their Sunday morning to-do lists, they were woven into the very fabric of their being.
In the early 6th century Christianity had been the official religion of the Roman Empire for nearly 200 years. The Church had reached new heights of wealth and power. Gone were the days of Christians being known as a simple people who shared their lives and cared deeply for one another. Church leaders were becoming affluent influencers of politics and culture. Many sincere believers who felt wealth and power would only corrupt and institutionalize their precious faith, fled to the deserts to pursue simple lives of love and service. Benedict of Nursia first left Rome in search of personal solitude; but his quiet, pious life drew the attention of many so that eventually he began establishing monastic houses in remote wilderness areas. Credited as the Father of Western Monasticism, he is most remembered for The Rule that he wrote and is still used 1500 years later. The Rule consists of 73 chapters that outline in very practical ways, how the Benedictine monks would live in love and service towards one another. One of their guiding principles was the vow of stability. To take this vow meant to commit oneself to that community of monks for the rest of one’s life.
Is that extreme? Yes, very. In fact the strict asceticism of the early monastic orders may have been an overreaction to the newly gained wealth and power of the organized Church. However, in a world where we can unfriend and unfollow with the click of a button, stay home or change churches altogether without people noticing, we would do well to learn from these simple desert fathers and mothers. In a culture that craves connection, the values of the 6th century Benedictine monks are as relevant as ever. The point is, they knew sacrificial and authentic community was central to the faith. They made it a priority, and we can as well.
To be clear, there are no easy fill-in-the-blank answers here. This looks different for everyone. In my family’s pursuit of true community, we moved from a geographical location that we loved dearly, to live life and mission with a group of people who are friends in the truest sense; and in the journey together, they have become like family. We worship together and share life together; not just the pretty parts. We share fears, frustrations and failures and we fight for one another. We share our broken, messy, beautiful lives. This is the kingdom way.