When we start looking at examples of community in the Bible, we are naturally drawn to the account of the early church in Acts. They worshipped, ate and lived together in harmony, devoted to the apostles and to each other.
I don’t know about you, but in my life, community is a lot messier than that. For me, community looks more like the Israelites in Exodus.
The Israelites who left Egypt with Pharoah on their heels had all the makings of a thriving community. They had a strong leader in Moses. They were bonded around a common purpose of getting to the promised land. They had strength in numbers. Even with all of those advantages, living in community was messy for the Israelites. But they eventually figured it out.
If you are trying to build a community around your blog, ministry or business, maybe these lessons from the Isaraelites will help you.
Communities need guidelines
The Ten Commandments were the original group rules. God was trying to tell the Israelites if they would just follow these ten rules … Love God, Love and Respect People … they could make it to the Promised Land.
When they needed something even more specific, God gave them the whole book of Deuteronomy to add structure and safety to the community.
The members of our communities will also feel safe when they know what the guidelines are. In some cases, unwritten rules develop as communities grow organically. In online groups where community is growing, specific, written guidelines are needed. Every online group has different guidelines depending on the goals of the group, and without guidelines for your group, your new members may assume that what is ok in other groups is ok in yours.
Working through hard stuff can strengthen the bond
The Israelites faced a lot of tough circumstances … hunger, weariness, even the death of their leader just before they reached their goal.
Hard times can break a community. Some people will leave because they just don’t have the will or the energy to work through it. But those that stay, and face the hard times with honesty, valuing the community above themselves, will find it easier to face the next hard time together.
As the leader of your community, you have the opportunity to shepherd your community through the difficult times. Where ever people gather, even God-loving people, friction will eventually burn, tempers will flare and feelings will be hurt. Your response will set the tone for those that will follow. Be firm in protecting the health of the community while caring for the hearts of individuals.
Community takes Divine intervention
No matter how many times the Israelites disappointed Him, God never left their midst. He kept providing, kept guiding, kept loving. And eventually, the community came together.
As they neared the end of their journey, Moses gathered materials for the tabernacle, As their leader for decades, Moses clearly had the authority to demand their contributions, but there was no need to. Exodus 35 says “everyone whose heart stirred him”, “everyone whose spirit moved him”, “All who were of a willing heart”, “All the men and women, the people of Israel, whose heart moved them”. After years of facing hardship and living in community together, the whiny, complaining bunch that crossed the Red Sea in Exodus 13 ended in Exodus 35-40 as a strong community working together towards a common goal. That is a change that could only happen through the work of God in their midst.
Hopefully, it won’t take almost 40 years for your group to develop into a thriving, healthy community. When your group members feel safe in good times and bad, God has room to move and create something special in your midst.
What aspects of community are important to you? How can you contribute to a thriving community where you are?