July 25, 2016

By Nate Wagner

Do you feel as though each conversation you have during happy hour is a competition? Do you have so many different people rotating in and out of your life that you long for deeper connection? Do you become nostalgic when thinking of a time when you experienced real community and live in the present moment with a sense of resigned bitterness? Are you imagining your future as one filled with deep and thriving relationships and see the present moment as an unfortunate means to an end? The Gospel brings us hope in the midst of this sometimes despair-filled cultural landscape, offering true community in this city.

Do you have so many different people rotating in and out of your life that you long for deeper connection?

Community is a word that has many different meanings and applications depending on its context. Social media and the evolution of social networking has increasingly broadened the definition of community, seemingly producing a world unbound by physical boundaries. As a result, the word “community” by itself is insufficient, vague, and platitudinous. In the west, community has merged with consumerism, rendering it more like a shopping mall than a family. Consequently our culture is left fragmented, operating as if the parts of society were whole in and of themselves.

In the west, community has merged with consumerism rendering it more like a shopping mall than a family.

Individual freedom has been emphasized and prioritized in our culture, and in Arlington, this is hyperbolized in the transient and free-flowing revolving door of people moving to the area for jobs and leaving the area for greener pastures. In many respects, individual freedom is a wonderful privilege that most people in the world do not get to experience. However, when individual freedom becomes the operational mechanism for all our decision-making we are left in the wake of its consequences.

Kingdom of God

Feeling disconnected, isolated, and alone in a metro area of over 6 million people is one of the many clues that there is something that is not quite right with our world. However, God is building a city in which social ills, conflict, isolation, anxiety, and depression are banished at the borders. While this city is not here in full, it is amongst us, demonstrated by the lives of citizens of that city! The power of that hope is magnified when those citizens are living in community here and now.

God is building a city in which social ills, conflict, isolation, anxiety, and depression are banished at the borders.

In Acts 2:42-47 we see a powerful demonstration of the distinctiveness of this community as it is marked by intimacy, growth, and loving charity. In our community groups at Portico Church Arlington, we strive to imitate the early church as we emphasize those three characteristics by eating together, growing together, and serving together. 

Eat Together

Contrary to popular belief community cannot exist on a screen. Eating together requires physical presence and involves a level of intimacy that goes beyond casual conversation. Often in the confines of someone’s personal space, eating together is a sign of trust and warmth that fosters love and belonging.

In Acts 2, we see this as a devotion to breaking bread. This means that the early church prioritized eating with one another above the individual freedom of living a self-sufficient life. The fruit of this pursuit was twofold: 1) none had need or went hungry; 2) they ate with joyful and generous hearts. This was not your family’s awkward and uncomfortable thanksgiving dinner! It is a joy and delight to take part in this feast.

Grow Together

In the early church there was a great deal of confusion about what had just happened. The man who was also God had just been crucified, was resurrected, and then ascended to heaven. Since this was the foundation of this new community, there was a great deal of emphasis on growing in an understanding of the meaning of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. This occurred then the same way it does now, through the study of the apostles’ teaching. Notice that this growth is not just in knowledge but it invades the hearts of those who hear it prompting response.

Notice that this growth is not just in knowledge but it invades the hearts of those who hear it prompting response.

The response is described as occurring in two ways: 1) the people were together. Those who were growing were growing together. There was a unity to their growth that set them apart. 2) The people were multiplying. The Word of God is active and does not remain stagnant. It is meant to go out into the world, the surrounding culture, and generate newness of life. The citizens of God’s kingdom are the carriers of this message of hope.

Serve Together

The community of believers in Acts was not defined by a war against the prevailing culture, but a desire to redeem and renew the culture.

Another hallmarkof this community is that despite its emphasis on unity and growth, the community was never inwardly focused. As the story of this community continues to unfold, there is a persistent pattern of acts of mercy, generosity, and redemption that communicated the power and goodness of this community. The community of believers in Acts was not defined by a war against the prevailing culture, but a desire to redeem and renew the culture. It meant that members of the community were actively engaging people and institutions in the culture, communicating the good news of life under King Jesus to anyone they came into contact with. In word and deed, citizens of God’s Kingdom spread the power of grace and hope of redemption that marks their lives.

Community in Arlington will undoubtedly look different in many ways than community in first century Jerusalem. However, the truth, goodness, and hope that come through the Gospel does not change. Therefore, our community groups will be marked by real intimacy, real commitment, real love, real service, real growth, and real grace. 

Join us at one of our community groups as we strive to embody Gospel Community in Arlington.