One of the first things I discovered in planting churches was that the most combustible element of our missional endeavor was the work of cultivating community.
Here’s a promise: the romanticism around planting a church will fade the moment you have real people with real personalities attempting to love one another in real-time.
The more diverse your group and context, the more tenuous community formation feels. My church plant consists of people who don’t want to feel like a building block for a leader’s preferred utopian visions. They want to feel like part of the family. A core challenge in cultivating community is the effort of nurturing this family orientation.
It’s tempting to talk about community in abstractly, but abstractions have very little traction. Church planters must seek to become “Community Diagnosticians.” They need the competency and character to instruct others in key practices of the people of Jesus such as how to:
- live in shared in rhythms of life
- practice healthy emotional exchanges
- assess, identify, stimulate and disciple healthy habits amongst extended spiritual families.
Community is not a fad it is the foundational apologetic in our civilization that Jesus is Lord. The credibility of the Gospel of Jesus is explicitly tethered to the quality of our practical and emotional collective life (1 Corinthians 12,13, Matthew 5-7). Mission finds its endurance in the ongoing formation of the vibrancy of the community.
In this vital work of church planting, I’m always searching for aid, input, and resources that will help me, help others. These are my top twelve recommendations on Cultivating Community for the work of church planting. I have put them in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of importance.
Body Politic by John Howard Yoder
This anabaptist theologian offer five new Testament practices that are central to the life of Christian Community. This book is short and sweet but offers a full social, ethical and communal meaning to our existence with each other. The chapter on Breaking Bread Together is a gem to be recovered in the life and witness of the church.
Community and Growth by Jean Vanier
This book presses into the ways we are afraid, uncertain and push each other away. We need companionship in community desperately but we self-sabotage it so often. Vanier in this classic book lays out a pathway to belonging that accepts our limitations but draws us into liberation.
Community 101 by Gilbert Bilezikian
This book dives headlong into the concept of oneness. Oneness is a gift given to the People of God by the victory of God. So how do we get on with that project? Dr. Bilezikian re-centers sanctification as the work of unselfish love in the relational space of community arresting it away from the private spiritual exercise that it has become.
Connecting by Larry Crabb
Soul-care should center on building intimate, healing, grace-filled communities. It takes courage to write a book like this as it critiques the way the church contracts out the work of healing to therapists. Sure, paying mental health professionals makes us feel better for a season but true transformation only happens in the space of a loyal, truth-speaking, patient community. He dives deep into the complications around this type of transition.
Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Bonhoeffer recounts his unique fellowship in an underground seminary during the Nazi years in Germany. Giving practical advice on how life together in Christ can be sustained in spiritual families. This book talks about very simple things: singing together, living together, reading together touching on overcoming expectations and demands in community. Bonhoeffer guides us into an imagination of being true brothers and sisters under the headship of Christ. Life Together is bread for all who are hungry for the real life of fellowship
Living into Community by Christine D. Pohl
We’ve all experienced community that is more dysfunctional than flourishing. This books unpacks four sustainable communities core practices that lead to flourishing: gratitude, promise-keeping, truthfulness and hospitality. These practices are what people do together that over time address fundamental human belonging.
Organic Community by Joseph R. Myers
Can we really create community through master plans? Sometimes say Myers but often authentic community attachment happens organically in healthy environments. This books is a different kind of how-to-book that exposes organizational fallacies build on programming community and simultaneously redirects us to organic principles of partnership.
Paul’s Idea of Community by Robert J. Banks
Banks is convinced that the Apostle Paul was first and foremost concerned with the theology and practice of community as the application of Jesus in-breaking reign. Banks’s analysis of the early house churches in their historical context has no parallel, either in content or reader accessibility. This book presents a contextual historical account of Paul’s understanding of community, which in return spurs the thoughts of the reader to contemplate the state of the Church in this day.
Practicing the Way of Jesus by Mark Scandrette
This book offers a practice based approach to spiritual formation with others. This book is an invitation into communal experiments that cultivate inner character transformation. Scandrette forges a space where people come together to work out their vision and teachings of Jesus in real life.
The Cost of Community by Jamie Arpin-Ricci
This books journey’s through the Sermon on the Mount leveraging it’s content to deconstruct and reconstruct our framework for following Jesus. The Sermon on the Mount was a high challenge and high invitation to live into a new community with distinct markers. Jamie gets real about the implications on what the Kingdom of God means for life together.
This book addresses the prevailing heresy of hyper-individualism that eats at the heart of most churches. Hellerman explores early church practices as prophetic direction to the present 21st century church. What does interconnectedness look like? Where does it start? This book answers those questions.
Historian and theologian Charles Marsh partners with veteran activist John Perkins to chronicle God’s vision for more equitable movement that forms a beloved community. God is calling us incorporate reconciliation into our framework of community without it we are left captive to division.
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