My family lives in a community that is considered exurban. Exurban has little of the “suburban” amenities of community. Most of the people live life in the city, and merely sleep at home—a bedroom community in the truest sense. Community is at a premium. It is not a priority, and yet there are so so many lonely people, doing this thing called life side by side, but not arm in arm.
It is the antithesis of how the early believers lived, and yet it is how many Christians live today.
In the book of Acts, the section of the Bible that talks about the early church, we see a completely different methodology of living life. Acts 2 says,(NRSV) “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” (Read the full passage here).
Wow, what a lifestyle! The early believers gave it all up, and shared it in common, distributing to each as there was need. This is an upside-down approach to living in the world today, a totally radical ideology of holding things loosely and people tightly. The early believers had their hearts so aligned with the Creator, with Jesus, with the Spirit, that they entirely lived by the principles of “seeking first God’s kingdom,” and trusting that “all these things will be given to you as well.” This flies in the face of our contemporary society where we so often hold things tightly and people loosely.
Unlike the early church, in our secular neighbourhood most of our neighbours don’t know one another or talk to each other, until winter comes. God forces community in our little village through snow, after snow, after snow. I can go weeks without ever seeing our next door neighbours (with whom we share walls and a driveway). But that first snow happens, and everyone is forced out into their driveways to shovel (or snow blow), depending on your economic status. Last winter I met several neighbours for the very first time shovelling side by side.
It’s funny the things that bring people together. But in this day and age where self is ruler, the democracy of natural phenomena often is the only thing that can bring people together—snow storms, ice storms, power outages, etc.
It may not be probable that all people who profess to be Christians revert back to living like the early church. We probably cannot all move in to multi-generational homes or intentional living communities. But we can all cultivate deeper communities through our local churches and our neighbourhoods.
Consider a few options…
1-Host a small group in your home once a week.
My husband and I do this with several couples from our church, but it has an open-door policy—if someone wants to come, they are welcome! It is not a structured Bible study in any sense of the word. It is downright chaos!
Last year, in our “great room” (which I call our “mediocre room” because there is nothing “great” about it), we had a tiny apartment-sized Ikea table, and an equally sized dog crate, a small couch, a soft arm chair, an end-table (which serves as a chair or a coffee table), and a baby swing. Not nearly enough chairs for the number of people, but that makes it all the more homey. The dining area, living room, and kitchen are all connected in an L shape with an oddly shaped wall smack dab in the middle, where our air system goes. It is an eyesore and wildly dysfunctional for hosting, or so I thought.
We had eight adults in our group, two toddlers, three babies, and a giant black lab all crammed into this space. We shared a meal together each week—rotating who cooked, shared life together, and sometimes made it through the sermon questions that went along with whatever series we were doing. And in the midst of all of this, the two toddlers and the dog chased each other in tiny circles around the wall in the middle of the room. Any adult at any given time might have any child or baby on their lap. We just kind of pass them around as people try to eat and chat and share life together. It relieves the burden of parenting one-on-one by playing the zone.
But this group of diverse people share life together, share family together. Not everyone has their own kids yet, but we all have family. We pass hand-me-down baby clothes and equipment around, as each has need. We share what we can, and give away excess. It is not by any means as stringent as the early community of believers in Acts, in terms of sharing everything in common and giving the rest away; but little by little we break from the norms of our contemporary culture and move backwards toward community.
2-Consider rotating dinners a couple of nights a week with another person or family.
We do this with my sister and brother-in-law. The days of the week change, but we make dinner together at least one night a week, sometimes several nights a week. It cuts down on grocery costs (because cooking for four instead of two is not that much more). We often piece together meals and use up leftovers with them too. There is no luxury to it normally, though both of our husbands are excellent cooks, and sometimes make some fairly gourmet meals.
But the primary purpose is to do life together, share a meal together. There is something about coming around a table with friends that strips away the masks we so often wear and allows each other to just be.
3-Try living in a smaller space by sharing a space with others.
The average family today lives in significantly more square-footage than the average family in the 1950s. This increase comes with additional environmental impacts, as well as financial. It also increases our distance between others—not just in our nuclear families, but our neighbours and friends. What percentage of your home do you live in on a regular basis? For many people in the First World, this might be a relatively low percentage.
One of my friends just posted a picture on Facebook of her family downsizing that said, “Less house, more home.” What a good way to look at this endeavour to use space efficiently. Consider what it might look like to share your space.
Maybe you have a basement that another family could live in altogether. At various times during our marriage we have had relatives living with us or we have lived with relatives for short periods of time, while overcoming illness, for commuting purposes, or in between homes.
One summer, while living in another country as a student, I was graciously housed in an elderly widow’s finished attic. She didn’t use the space and I needed a space to stay. I benefited from free housing, she benefited from additional help driving, grocery shopping, etc; and we developed quite an unlikely friendship! At the end of my time there, she said that she felt like she gained a granddaughter and I gained an Oma. The elderly sometimes undervalue the impact that they can have on a young life. But it can be incredibly life-giving for everyone.
Consider how much of your home you need, versus how much you use, versus how much you have. The other consideration is furnishings. How much of your home do you unnecessarily furnish (ie: living rooms or formal dining areas that are only used once a year). Is there someone who could benefit from living or staying under the same roof? Is there someone else who could benefit from the furnishings at very least?
Recently, in Canada, there has been a large influx of Syrian refugees. While our home and church are too far away from the city to provide adequate transportation options for most refugee situations, we partnered with churches in the city for financial support and furnished several homes. Consider what Jesus calls us to in Matthew 25, “Whatever you do to one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine you do to me.” Jesus himself was a refugee, a Palestinian Jew, which we often don’t think about.
Consider your margins, not just financially, but also in your housing, your furnishings, your space. Could someone else benefit from being involved with you in some form of intentional community? I have been on the giving and receiving end of several of these options and can tell you, as a serious introvert, that even for me it has been an amazing experience, and I daresay how we were meant to live.
Never has isolation been more prevalent (and in a culture of supposed instant “connection”!). Yet, we were meant to be together—living richly in community.