We are relational beings. We flourish and persist on relationships. I think it is fair to say that nobody enjoys being alone. For this reason, God created Eve for Adam, because it was not good for him to be alone. This rings true throughout history, we need people. This church is a building filled with relational beings. There is a reason why we refer to the body of believers who worship together as A CHURCH FAMILY. We are a family and God deigned his church to exist as a family. Two the things that I love about the Church are the relationships and community that we build. We need to make it a mission to invest in building relationships with one another and in the community around us. Community and relationships are how the church began, thrived and survived throughout the centuries.
We see this in Philippians. Community was the key in building the foundational relationship between Paul and the Philippian church. If you recall, the purpose of this letter to the Philippians was because the Church heard Paul was in prison, they rallied together and sent a man named Epaphroditus to bring money, gifts and encouragement to Paul and assist him in prison.
Philippians 2:19 – 30
Vs. 19 – 24: Paul’s desire was to send Timothy to Philippi so that he would be cheered or encouraged by the good news of the church. He wants to send Timothy because he is proven and trustworthy to genuinely minister to them. Unlike others he is not self-serving, and he does not have any agenda other than that of Jesus Christ.
Vs 25 - 30: Paul is also sending Epaphroditus back to Philippi because during his travels he became sick and nearly died, but he was able to bring the gift to Paul. Unfortunately, Epaphroditus could not stay due to his illness, but he was able to give Paul an update on the church in Philippi and according to Paul’s tone in the letter it was a positive update, but he did mention some division that was happening. He was also able to minister to Paul in his illness. He became a brother, fellow worker, soldier, messenger, and minister.
Originally Paul was concerned the quarrels that had risen could taint their witness before the unbelievers in the city and his concern was that it would be difficult for the divided church to withstand the persecution that they continually experienced. Paul had a community that surrounded him in Philippi. Even though he was unable to physically be part of the church body, this community was extremely important to Paul. This church had invested in Paul, as he had invested in them. They lived together, even apart, to support, encourage, and challenge each other in faith.
Paul’s community consisted of many people, namely in today passage Epaphroditus and Timothy. These two helped foster and create a community where Paul could be encouraged during a difficult period of his life. Now, when people speak about community, they are generally talking about a group of people who live in the same area and may share a common background or shared interests. This type of community could be defined as a neighborhood.
Two types of neighborhoods
The importance of community:
A Gallop poll says, “Americans are among the loneliest people in the world.” Most of us live around a lot of people, we go to school with a lot of people, work with people and attend sporting events and concerts with a lot of people. “But having access to people is not the issue for us. So why are we lonely?”
We are a culture that craves relationships and yet many of us have very little, if any community to speak of. The sad thing is that so many of us crave community, yet we live in a society or culture that does not promote it. We are with people all day and then we come home and close the doors we lock out the rest of the world. We eat a dinner (maybe as a family or maybe not) sit and gaze at the TV, our phones or have other busy work and we distance ourselves from the many people who live around us or even with us.
This is evidenced in the homes we build. Look at newer homes, they are actually designed to be contrary to community even though many claim to be a community. We see these in these housing “communities”. There are thousands of homes in these gated communities designed to keep people out. Many homes have porches and the homeowners never go out and sit on them. They have yards and put fences around them to keep people out. Sometimes we say, “It’s for safety reasons”, but really, it’s because we want to shelter ourselves from the rest of our “community”.
Look at how homes were built in the 50s and 60s in comparison to today. They we were constructed with front porches, so when people took evening walks or drives, it was common to drop by and visit with your neighbors sitting on the porch. That rarely, if ever, happens today.
Even God understood our need for community. Genesis 2:18 says, “Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper corresponding to him.” This is not just a verse to promote marriage. God understood that man cannot survive on his own. He needs fellowship, communion and community. Even Jesus created community around him. He had a community with his 12 disciples. Within that community He had an even closer community with James, John and Peter. He didn’t just have a group of guys following Him around as His entourage like you see movie stars and celebrities today. He had a group of followers with Him who were part of his community and they learned and lived life together. The same goes for the Apostle Paul. He had a community of friends whom he depended on and lived among because this was the way God designed the Church.
When we look at this group in this room, we have a community present. But the question is, “What kind of community do we have?” Are we a close-knit group of believers who have established community and are a spiritual family or are we a group of people who meet together every Sunday or maybe an occasional Sunday morning with very little interaction with one another outside of church? The question is how do we create community? Or can community even be created?
Pastor Andy Stanley has designed a model for creating community in his book CREATING COMMUNITY: FIVE KEYS TO BUILDING A SMALL GROUP COMMUNITY and I would like to share that with you. He describes community model as more of a setting than he does a program. In his book he uses the home as its focal point or example to show how community is built. He uses the examples of the “Foyer, Living Room and Kitchen” as his model.
The Foyer/Porch/Front door: This is typically the entry point into the home. Typically, guests enter the home through the foyer/porch or front door. We enter our home in at least two ways to enter.
In a ministry setting the foyer is equivalent to the entry way for guests. We want our guests to come in and visit with us, to feel welcomed and enter into an experience that will impact them positively in some way that they will want to come back. At Southside my hope is that we make a first impression that will encourage others to come back and worship with us again. Usually, a person will make the decision to return to a church within the first 10 minutes upon arrival at a church. Key factors include friendliness, style of worship music, and even the look, smell and character of the worship space… I know it’s not so spiritual huh? But this is not to say that the message is not important, I am just saying that the guest has usually made up their mind before they even get to the message.
The Living Room: The living room is designed for people to become better acquainted.
From a ministry standpoint I would say our living room is the fellowship before and after worship as it is intended for connecting. I love it when people stay around and fellowship after worship. I even love the time we spend together before church begins. I love seeing fellowship happen after Life groups conclude. I love seeing people standing around talking to one another. I love when a guest comes to visit and immediately some of you go up to the guest(s) and welcome them and introduce yourself to them. The living room is where relationships are made, and we become better acquainted with one another and grow closer to one another.
The Kitchen Table: This is where life’s most meaningful conversations take place. It is the place where we share our experiences, discuss important issues and enjoy our meals. The kitchen table is where close friends begin to feel more like family.
I know today’s message doesn’t look like the typical sermon I usually preach. I consider this more of a topical and practical message that will help us all better understand the importance of establishing and building community within the church. I mentioned at the beginning of the message that Paul was a man of relationships and community. He needed the church, as we see in the text today that he needed the Philippians. The same goes for us… We need one another in order to make it in this world today. God has established this small church smack dab in the middle of this community so we can bring his message of hope and salvation to the neighborhood, but that message cannot be fully heard until we are established as a body of believers who are welcoming, friendly, and in love with our Savior. It is like any relationship, we must build a trusting and inviting relationship with our neighborhood so that they will be willing to respond by coming when we invite them. Once we invite our neighbors, friends, and family in we need to be sure that we, like the Philippians are able to love, care for, and support those who come looking for something that only
Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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