I sulked alone poolside, soaking my feet and soothing my ego, wondering how it all went so wrong.
God was doing a new thing. Or at least I thought he was.
He’d made a way where there was no way. Or at least I thought he had.
He gave me the Christ-centered community I prayed for. Or at least I thought he did.
After more than a decade navigating our way through broken religious systems, our family stepped away from what we knew as “church” to catch our breath. Weeks turned unexpectedly to months of isolation in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, and we started to wonder if there would even be a church to go back to when it was all over.
Grace would have it, we were invited to a Sunday morning Zoom call. Not a house church, not a ministry meeting, just a gathering of believers interested in doing Christian life together even if we couldn’t be together physically.
After four decades of “playing church,” we had finally tapped into something real, something pure. It wasn’t just good, it was very good. So we knew it was from God.
The world opened up again as we prayed it would. But there was something so healing in the safe space we’d found. I couldn’t help but wonder if it could change the church for good.
I began to ask myself… Is this little community a thing? Could it be a thing? And finally, Can I make it a thing?
So I did what over-eager apostles do. I started building. Despite a friend’s prophetic caution, “Brit, don’t try to build what God wants to grow,” I forged ahead fast—and I fell deeply in love with my vision of what Christian community could be.
Once the thing became a thing, the unraveling began. The same tired battles over doctrine, power, relationships, and structure erupted amongst friends in grand, unoriginal fashion. I pressed on, convinced it was “just warfare,” singularly focused on my vision.
In a rare face-to-face gathering to present my community launch plan, I was stunned to learn that half the group was either confused about or adamantly opposed to the community I’d been building. Despite my attempts to clarify, persuade, and negotiate solutions, we were at an impasse.
My over-inflated ego shattered, I wandered out back to the pool to dip my feet after walking through such refining fire. There in the cool of the evening, it hit me: I’d made community an idol. And God wasn’t having it.
Here are five key things I got wrong about Christian community—and the hard-won keys to getting them right.
1. Unity isn’t the same as uniformity.
Unity has little to do with assimilation. God celebrates diversity and welcomes sinners to walk with saints so they may be changed forever by His love. We’re one with God, in Christ, by the power of The Holy Spirit—and the expressions of that union are vast and deep.
“So when that day comes, you will know that I am living in the Father and that you are one with me, for I will be living in you.”John 14:20 TPT
That oneness is for all believers—even the ones who don’t look, think, act, believe, or behave like you do.
2. Fitting in doesn’t mean belonging.
It’s no secret some people feel more welcome than others in the church. Whether you’ve always known you were “in” or you’ve never once felt that way, today is the day where you learn the truth.
“My Father’s house has many dwelling places. If it were otherwise, I would tell you plainly, because I go to prepare a place for you.”John 14:2 TPT
You’re not just welcome in God’s house—you belong here. Before you believe. Before you behave. Before you know who you are or who God is, you have a seat at his table.
3. Leadership can’t be beyond reproach.
What goes up must come down—and when we put our leaders on too high of a pedestal, they fall harder and farther than any of us could imagine.
“My dear brothers and sisters, don’t be so eager to become a teacher in the church since you know that we who teach are held to a higher standard of judgment.”James (Jacob) 3:1 TPT
When leaders fall, we must come around them and lean into the collective learning that’s being put on display. We can not only help leaders see their error, repent, and believe again—we can restore them gently and witness the personal transformation that transforms communities for the better.
4. Toxicity must not be tolerated.
We Christians hate conflict even more than we hate sin. So when we see a brother or sister engaging in toxic behavior, we say nothing—or, when confronted, we dance around the issue, trying not to make waves or end the relationship.
“It takes a grinding wheel to sharpen a blade, and so one person sharpens the character of another.”Proverbs 27:17 TPT
With surgical precision, let’s go beyond holding each other accountable to a sin nature and hold each other accountable to our destiny—sainthood! Be ready to value people over your relationship with them every time.
5. Self-care isn’t selfish.
Kingdom community organizers like me can fall into legalistic striving all-too-quickly. We can’t help but see the opportunity in front of us to build the world we want to see. And when we lean into the idol of community too hard, we inevitably neglect our own mind, body, and soul.
“Are you weary, carrying a heavy burden? Come to me. I will refresh your life, for I am your oasis.”Matthew 11:28 TPT
There is a time for compassionate community care, and there is a time for compassionate self-care. You can’t possibly cultivate healthy, authentic communities if you’re not tending to the sacred garden of your own heart with God. Self-care is soul-care. And we all need it.
“The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community. But the person who loves those around them will create community.”Dietrich Bonhoeffer
When I made community an idol and it all fell apart, God made it clear that he would not share my affections with anyone or anything; even if that thing, at its core, was very, very good.
I’m thrilled to report I pulled my toes from the pool, put one foot in front of the other, and dove back into community building God’s way—by loving the one in front of me. God has been faithful to grow what I couldn’t build on my own: Community with the power to heal.
Adapted from The Uncovery Devotional: Rethinking Recovery One Day at a Time, © 2023 by George A. Wood and Brit Eaton, published by Whitaker House. Used with permission.
Brit Eaton and co-author George A Wood are on a mission to help the church—and the world—see recovery through a grace-laced, gospel lens in their books, The Uncovery and the brand-new Uncovery Devotional. Learn more about the authors at www.TheUncoveryBook.com.