How to Foster Authentic Community
Does your Bible-study group feel like a place of togetherness, honesty, and refuge for you and the ladies in attendance? Is it more than a place to learn academically? How can you foster an environment such as this?
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Some of you are already enjoying authentic community within your church and small group. Others may still long for it desperately.
Maybe before we begin, we should ask ourselves…
What should Christian community look like?
What end goal should we envision? When we read about the early church in the book of Acts, we see a group of believers spending lots of time with one another in public places as well as in each other's homes. We see them caring for one another by sharing their own resources. We see them sharing the gospel and adding daily to the number of believers in Jesus Christ.
What may have been the feel of this community? What type of words did they exchange? How did they love on one another?
Here are four Scripture-based examples of authentic community:
Encourage One Another
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11
Is your small group a place of encouragement? Are ladies building each other up? What does that look like?
Any fellowship of believers should be spurring each other on towards Christ, pointing out the spiritual growth they see in each other, and reinforcing the truth that in Christ we can overcome sin.
Confess Your Sins to One Another
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. James 5:16
This is not always a comfortable subject. The world we live in teaches us that my business is none of yours. That’s not what the Bible teaches.
Scripture encourages us to readily confess our sins to one another. Why? It’s so we can pray for one another and see each other overcome sin.
It’s amazing as an individual to experience the freedom from the bondage of sin that I have in Christ, but it’s even greater when we experience it as a community. To see not only myself overcome sin, by the grace of God, but also my friend for whom I have been praying, multiplies the joy we have in Jesus.
The key is that confessing my sin does not result in judgment but in others rallying around me, praying for me, and encouraging my spiritual growth and desire to obey God.
Live in Harmony with One Another
“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 15:5
As I mentioned, the early church spent a lot of time together. They did life together, you might say. They were in harmony with one another, and they had a common purpose: To bring glory to God.
When conflicts and tension inevitably arise in our church or small group, do we turn our eyes or do we address the issue?
According to this verse, I suggest we handle it by…
- Praying to the God of endurance and encouragement: Who better to help us reconcile than the God who loves to encourage us rather than tear us down and who has endured far greater conflict than this? “God, would you grant us this request?”
- Resolving conflict to the point of harmony: What will it take to reconcile people in your group to once again be in peace with one another? They don’t have to be best friends, but they should forgive one another and have peace in their hearts towards one another. Hatred and resentment tear at community. Forgiveness fosters harmony.
- Focus on your common goal: Have we lost sight of what’s important? It’s not my own comfort or desires but the glory of God.
Worship with One Another
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Colossians 3:16
If our goal is to bring glory to God, then we should worship Him together. When we think of worshipping God, songs of praise come to mind right away. Those are a great way to worship.
God is also glorified when our hearts are full of thanksgiving and when we encourage one another with biblical wisdom and study the Bible together. Yes, even our admonishing conversations with one another are an act of worship.
How do we foster this type of community?
The truth is that we cannot force or fabricate this type of togetherness. In fact, those action words (force, fabricate, manufacture) are in direct conflict with the idea of authenticity.
The best kind of authentic community grows organically and patiently.
What does that mean for us? If we cannot create such a community with a set formula, are we helpless? Are we wasting our time with this article? I sure hope not.
We may not be able to fabricate authentic community, but we can foster it.
Here is a tip: It starts with you.
Model Biblical Community
Encourage the ladies in your group. Confess your sins. Forgive your sister in Christ. Worship the Lord in your heart and with your words.
As you model this type of behavior, it will start to become what is expected in your group. “This is a place where we are real with one another just as our leader is real with us.”
When you confess your own sins, for example, it becomes much easier for everyone else to step out of their comfort zone and do the same. “Hey, if my teacher isn’t perfect, it’s no surprise that I am not either.”
This is the gospel, isn’t it? We all need help, and we find it in Jesus alone.
Allow Yourself to be a Participant
While the Bible does call spiritual leaders to live above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2), God knows that none of us - not even Bible teachers - are perfect (Psalm 103:14). We should know this in our hearts and be open about it in front of our group.
Allow the ladies in your group to encourage you and love on you just as you do for them. Let them pray over you and help carry your burdens. You are an equal part of your group. Enjoy it!
Friendships don’t develop overnight. Fostering authentic community takes time.
Pray for God to lead you and direct you. Ask Him to help you identify ladies who may be nervous about sharing openly or ladies who need to reconcile with one another. Ask God to show you opportunities for fellowship and relationship building.
Be open to God’s purpose for your group and allow Him to direct it according to His will. It may look differently than what you first envisioned. It takes a heart in tune with the Holy Spirit to patiently wait for His answers and direction. Oh, the adventures God takes us on! My heart is full of praise!