The Importance of [Virtual] Community
In the final hours of his life on earth, Jesus knelt down and prayed for you and me. He prayed we would have community; that the world would know him by our love for each other and our unity in the gospel. Our unity as the body of Christ is so important to Jesus that he prayed we would be one as he and the father are one. What an honor! What a calling!
The church is not a building but a body — a family.
It is now perhaps as important as ever that we maintain and grow our unity in Christ. As the world around us continues to be in flux, many of us are asked to stay inside, work from home, and maintain social distance from others to ensure our individual and communal health. Digital platforms have come to the forefront of how we commune, connect, grow, and learn.
What we need in this time of physical isolation is relational connection.
In the last week, my wife and I have met digitally with many of the groups in our church. It’s been so refreshing! We’ve seen people as they’ve made dinner, sat on their beds, the floor, or their couches, and even prepared baths for their little ones. We’ve cried and laughed together. At times the meetings were exhausting, but always we felt encouraged and had an abiding sense that we were not alone.
Here are four benefits of meeting together as groups through digital platforms in this season.
1. See another face. Many of the groups at our campus have been meeting together digitally, and we’ve been able to meet some sweet babies who’ve been born in the last two weeks. Joy. Even the most hardened human being tends to melt before the face of a little baby. When you see another person’s face, you also get a much better idea of their mood and state of mind, which allows you to demonstrate better care.
2. Read Scripture together. In 1 Timothy 4:13 Paul exhorts Timothy to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture.” In these online groups we’ve read chunks of Scripture straight through. We’ve read Psalms 120–135. All of Philippians. Hebrews 9–13. Mark 1–4. Acts 8–10. It’s been wonderful to hear and affirm the truth of Scripture in the company of believers. People don’t have to be good speakers to read Scripture, although it does help when people read clearly and with confidence. Sometimes people have difficulty reading Scripture on their own. The discipline of reading Scripture together can help us in our weakness.
3. Find out how everyone is doing. When we meet as a group digitally, we take each other’s pulse. Some people are incredibly calm while others are more anxious. Some have lost their job while others are busier at work than ever. Some are bored; others are enjoying the change. What holds for all is that everyone is dealing with uncertainty and the added emotional, relational, financial, mental and spiritual stress. When we take the time to find out how others are doing, they feel loved and we feel safe, aware that our roles could easily be reversed the next day.
4. Pray together. Prayer is difficult work. It’s one of the reasons we tend to pray so little. When you throw in added anxiety (from a national crisis), the act of praying can become nearly impossible. This is why praying together is so valuable. I need to hear your thanksgiving and petitions. No two prayers are the same, and I benefit from the things that bring you joy and the things that trouble you. Your joy expands my joy. Your troubles inform my prayers for you.
All of these benefits are available through a digital group. A digital group is no replacement for the real thing, for physical proximity, but online groups can be essential to your spiritual wellbeing in this present crisis.
Just before Jesus entered the garden where we would be betrayed, beginning the events of his crucifixion, he prayed for the unity of his disciples. He did not pray just for the early church. He prayed for the unity of all future believers.
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20–21).
May we remain united in this season and take steps to be present with one another.