Leaving and the Art of Finding Community

Christians move for a number of reasons:

  • Missionaries uproot their lives to share the gospel with those who have never heard it before.  Sometimes they risk their lives for this work.
  • Pastors leave one church to pastor another according to God’s will.
  • Followers of Christ will often feel God leading them to pursue a job at a non-profit organization or some other group primarily focused on caring out the will of God.

But, by-and-large, Christians move because they are normal people:

  • New job opportunities open up in a different part of the country.
  • There is a desire to be closer to an ill or aging relative.
  • People get married.
  • People go to college.

Up until now, I have only had the experience of being the leave-e rather than the leaver.  Now, the tables are turned.  I’m going to college.  Leaving for college is a unique type of leaving.  Imagine that you are on a trail that you have hiked so many times that you no longer need to use a map to find your way.  Now imagine that this familiar path suddenly has a new, less worn trail branching off of it, one that you have never seen before.  You choose to travel down this path with both hesitance and confidence.  Hesitance because it is unknown territory.  Everything is new and there is a moderate amount of fear for what lies ahead.  But you also have have confidence because you know that you will able to find your way back to your trail, the one you have known since you were very young.  This is what it feels like to leave for college.  It’s a little exciting, and a little scary, but you always have the confidence that God, your family, and your community will be there for you.

“Community” is kind of a buzz word in Christianity.  Community is defined as a group of people who live or meet together in the same place, or have a particular characteristic in common.  For Christians, community means meeting together with other Christians, to pray for each other, to spur each other on, to encourage one another, and, if need be, to correct and guide one another. (For more information on what community looks like in the life of a Christian check out Hebrews 10:24-25James 5:16Ephesians 4:32, and Romans 12:10.)  I have a wonderful community here at home.  I have been raised in my church since I was a baby, and I have found many people to love and fellowship with there.  I have a wonderful family who has loved and encouraged me in everything that I do.  So now the question becomes, how do I find community in a new place?

I am going to the University of Arkansas with 27,000 of my new best friends.  With so many people on campus, the immediate goal of a conversation with a new person becomes, sadly, to determine if this person is worth the time to get to know further. Will I run in the same circles with this person enough to get to know them on a deeper level? Most of time, the answer is no. Conversations with new stranger-peers usually consist of about five questions:

  • What’s your name?
  • Where are you from?
  • What’s your major?
  • Are you rushing?
  • Where are you living? Maple Hill? Oh, cool, me too.  Maybe I’ll see you around (but probably not…)

So, how do we expect to find deeper community with these short, surface level conversations? We can’t.  The most logical step seems to be to ask more meaningful questions. From here on out, finding Christian community becomes like an art form, or like trying to find a needle in a haystack, or like an intricately choreographed dance.  Do you ask someone, ‘So, where do you stand on the great mozzarella v. cheddar debate?’ at the risk of sounding like a cheese-obsessed weirdo? Or, do you ask something like, ‘So, what are your thoughts about God?’ also at the risk of sounding like a weirdo?  The solution to building community will never be clear cut.  I believe that community is something that God blesses us with, and community will come into our lives by His timing.  This is not to say that we should passively wait around for God to bring people into our lives.  God will provide community for those who seek it out.  So pray that God will bring you good friends, Christ-like mentors, and a well-pastored, bible-preaching church.  And, while you are patiently waiting for these things to fall into place, be bold! Ask someone to have coffee with you sometime.  It may or may not lead to deep conversation, and therefore a better relationship with a peer.

Today, I had a mentor friend tell me not to have too high of an expectation for finding community.  I appreciated this, because I realize that community is not something that forms instantaneously.  Start simple.  Be kind.  The less you expect to receive back, the more you may be surprised at the kind of community you find.

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