In This Series:
Good friends are a biblical reason you should pursue mature companions—those who want to motivate you to live a God-glorifying life (Hebrews 10:24–25). While it is true that bad companions can corrupt your morals (1 Corinthians 15:33), it is also true that good companions can make you a better person. How would you respond to these questions as you think about your friendship list?
The Lord is the “what” when building a community of friends; He is what you want to become. Christ is the prize (Philippians 3:12–14). You hope to experience progressive change into Christlikeness (2 Corinthians 3:18) so that you can enjoy a fuller experience with Him. What do you want to do? Experience the Lord in more profound ways. With the Lord established as the goal, you begin developing a methodology that will allow you to fulfill your call to walk in a manner worthy of the calling He has placed on your life (Ephesians 4:1–3, 5:1–2).
This methodology is the “how” part of experiencing God. The “how” makes the word koinonia an important word. It is the word for community, fellowship, and participation. (See other koinonia verses in Philippians 1:5, 2:1; 1 Corinthians 1:9; 1 John 1:3, 6–7.) To fully experience God, a community of like-minded people must be willing to participate in the Spirit for the cause of biblical fellowship. (See 1 Corinthians 12:27; Matthew 25:44–45.) It is impossible to know the Lord in all the ways you can know Him without body-to-body reciprocality.
With Christ as the goal for your community, you can now begin delving into the practical aspects of building and connecting your lives together so you can experience that aim mutually. Here are seven suggestions to consider as you create a richer community life experience so that you all can mature into the fullest measure of Christlikeness.
1: Establish Your Goal
I will not develop this any further than what I have already mentioned but will only reiterate the importance of making the Lord the prize for doing community life. If deepening your experience with God is not your chief purpose, your community will deteriorate into a social club. Suppose you think about your primary relationships in a “mission statement way.” In that case, this could be your Community Mission Statement:
We are here to deepen our relationship with the Lord, which will happen in proportion to which we deepen our relationship with each other.
2: Understand Koinonia
Each person in your community will have to decide if they will share their complete experience with God with each other authentically. There are good and bad sides to how they relate to God. For example, there are areas in their lives where they are not appropriating the grace of God, as evidenced by personal struggles and inter-relational conflict. Nobody is perfect. Everyone is a work in progress. Everybody in your group of close friends will have sin problems and patterns in their lives. There are no exceptions to this rule.
It will be easier to share how they are experiencing victory in Jesus, but it will be a struggle for them to self-disclose in areas where they are not experiencing biblical success. The proportion in which every person in your community is self-disclosing will be the proportion in which your community will experience their most beneficial possibilities with God. Nothing in group life will be more challenging than living out this truth.
It is impossible to enjoy a complete expression of koinonia if your closest friends are not willing to share their entire experience with God. The same holds for you. Sharing half-truths about how you are doing with the Lord will only allow others to enter into half of your experience with the Lord—the safe side, where you are living the dream. However, if you don’t let them into the darker side of your life, there is a good chance you will always remain there.
3: Model Your Mission
Because you do not want to be naked and ashamed (Genesis 2:25), you cover yourself with fig leaves. That is what the Adamic people do. You carry a sense of fear, shame, and guilt and hope no one will expose you for who you are. The most effective way to motivate a person to share their complete experience with the Lord, specifically the darker side of themselves, is for you to share areas in which you struggle. You become the model for the person you want them to be.
All good counselors know this truth. When someone comes to counseling, the counselee can easily (and wrongly) assume the counselor has his act together. This presumption can intimidate the counselee and even hinder him from being self-disclosing. A wise counselor will want to diffuse this wrongheaded notion by letting the counselee know that he—the counselor—does not have it all together. There have been many times in counseling where I have shared my sin struggles.
My hope in doing so is to release the person from fear of being transparent. Trying to hide your sin is futile as trying to hide your skin color. The quicker you can get over yourself, the faster you can access one of the most effective means of grace given to you: the body of Christ. A wise, humble, community-minded person will openly discuss the good and bad sides of his relationship with the Lord.
4: Build Trust
The thing that will hinder you from openly sharing the darker things in your life is trust. Usually, trust issues revolve around two critical questions: (1) Can I trust you? (2) How will you respond to me after I reveal the real me? For example, will you judge me? Will you make fun of me? Will you critique me or gossip about me? Are you competent enough to help me? If I share my struggles with you, can you help me?
This relational tension is where you will need to be patient with people (1 Thessalonians 5:14). It can take years for someone to open up. Sanctification may sound nice on paper, but when you put a bunch of messed up people in a room together, things can become quite complicated.
5: Enjoy Small Talk
Small talk leads to deep talk. Typically, it is unwise to launch into deep conversations with people you do not know. It is even more foolish to pull things out of people—those uncomfortable with that kind of intrusive conversation. They may want help at some level but must come to you on their terms, not yours. Because of the tentativeness of people, it will be vital for you to learn the value of small talk.
Love your friends while encouraging and building trust. Do not expect in six weeks of relationship building with a friend what you have learned in twenty years of walking with the Lord. Give it time. You keep on modeling your mission. Let them see your freedom in Christ (Galatians 5:1). Let them see your example of how to reveal the darker side of life while teaching them how to appropriate the grace of God in those areas of struggle.
6: Value Intentionality
It will be easy to lose purpose with your friends, which makes being intentional essential. The gospel-centered life comes with a cross. The temptation to be less authentic and more shallow speaks to the essentialness of keeping your eye on the goal (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus never lost sight of His purpose. There was “joy set before Him,” which motivated Him to endure the process of redeeming hurting, lost, and enslaved people (Hebrews 2:14–15; Matthew 26:38–39). Intentional community building invariably leads to conflict, which is why people default to superficial community life. It is too hard, and we can be too stubborn.
7: Create Contexts
Because of the challenge of getting people to open up and the time involved in building trust with them, it would be wise to have several contexts where you are connecting with your community. Let them experience you in different settings, doing other things. Traditionally, we have used six different environments where we sought to do life with our friends. We did not want our weekly small group gathering to be the only opportunity to build with our folks relationally.
With these six things in mind, there are also five “means of grace” taught from Scripture about how change happens. You may use these means with any of the previously mentioned six strategies. These means are not in any particular order and are not equally applied. It depends on the person, the time, and the need of the moment as to what “means” is most helpful in a person’s life. Here are those “means” of grace:
I have two sets of questions for you. The first set helps you examine your heart regarding biblical fellowship (koinonia). I appeal to you to spend time with the Lord, discussing what you think about living in a community with other believers. It would be helpful to share your thoughts with someone close to you. I also recommend you have a solid understanding of the previous two chapters on communication to help you get a better handle on authentic community. Reviewing those chapters can make community life an incredible means of grace, especially if the group comes together with a desire to mature in their sanctification. You may find them here and here.
This second set of questions are the ones Lucia and I regularly ask each other. They always get the ball rolling conversationally as we transparently share our experiences with God—the good and the bad—with each other.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).