Community as a Lifestyle

*This post was adapted from a 2019 "Missional Community" leaders training*

Lifestyle vs. Event

What does it mean for you to have a “lifestyle?”  A lifestyle is made up of many factors, and has certain activities and markers. A lifestyle is the natural rhythm of a life that you do by instinct because it is just “a part of life.”

The scholar who spends hours studying; or the surfer who rises early to catch the morning swells. Each participates in these activities as a part of their normal life rhythms. Most days they are unlikely to give these activities a second thought, it's just what they do - it's part of their lifestyle.

What makes an event different from a lifestyle? Well, events are usually isolated, somewhat irregular, occasions that are not typically a part of someone’s regular life. For example, if I go on vacation to Hawaii and attempt to learn to surf, that would be an event, because I live in Oklahoma and clearly don’t have the opportunity to surf as a part of my natural life rhythm. It’s an event.

Gospel Community: Lifestyle or Event?

Now, consider this question: is your gospel community (or participating in it) a lifestyle or an event? We may, if we are not careful, treat our gospel communities as a mere event, and not part of our lifestyle. In fact, if we do not intentionally pursue community as a lifestyle, then the gospel community WILL default into an event.

If events are isolated and somewhat irregular, they are easily disregarded. In fact, if they are events, they will actually tend to get in the way of people’s actual lifestyle. A gospel community that operates as an event is deficient. Let’s look at the difference via two examples:

First, we have Joe (not his name, but he is a real person). Joe is a partner at Mercyview and a member of a gospel community.  He actively attends corporate worship and his gospel community.  One particular week a friend of Joe’s came into town. He decided to skip the gospel community because his friend was in town. There are surely many reasons Joe decided to skip the gospel community rather than invite his friend to join him. However, let me suggest one vital reason - he views his gospel community as an event; an event that was easily disregarded.

By contrast, consider Katherine (again, not her name, but she is a real person). Katherine’s sister is in town visiting. She invites her to join the gospel community and they both attend.  There are surely several reasons this situation played out differently than Joe’s. However, I know that Katherine has taken steps to make her gospel community a part of her lifestyle by investing in the group and its people.  

The point: if a gospel community becomes an event, then it may actually stand in opposition to a person’s lifestyle.  Events that do not fit nicely into one’s lifestyle are typically disregarded. To say it another way; if the gospel community is an event, then the smallest inconvenience or disruption may cause the person to disregard the gospel community.  By contrast, a gospel community

Where to Begin

We should start with Scripture. The picture we observe from Acts 2:42-47 exemplifies a lifestyle of community:
"And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved."

- Acts 2:42-47
The early church’s lifestyle was born out of a need for mutual support as they lived in a culture that was hostile to Christianity.  These early believers described in Acts 2 needed each other on a daily basis.  The text describes them worshipping together, eating in each other’s homes, taking care of each other, and sharing what they had. These factors point to a lifestyle characterized by deep, authentic, life-giving relationships. The early church may not have survived if they had approached the community as an event.  Fortunately, the early church valued community as a vital piece of their lifestyle.

Where to Begin

A gospel community must strive to become part of its member's lifestyle.  The obvious question is how?  We will again turn to Acts 2:42-47 for our answers (refer to the passage above). Let me suggest that in Acts 2 we find two categories of activities in which the early participated. We believe that a gospel community must intentionally pursue each category to become a part of its member’s lifestyle.

Category 1: Pursuing Jesus Together and with Intentionality

In Acts 2 we see this category in the form of time spent in the temple, in prayer, and holding to the apostle’s teachings. The early church spent time together intentionally pursuing the Lord.
The Church is a community that is built upon the faithfulness and pursuit of God. That means the church should spend a significant amount of time worshiping the Lord, studying God’s word, praying, and going on mission together.  These are all critical facets of the Christian community.

This first category relates to the gospel community in several ways.  A gospel community typically spends time:

  1. Discussing God’s Word
  2. Worshiping
  3. Praying
  4. Engaging in mission.  

These are aspects of the first category.  For the most part, gospel communities at Mercyview naturally gravitate toward the elements found in category 1.  Category 1 elements are essential, natural, and wonderful aspects of a gospel com

Category 2: Informally Entering Into Life Together

In addition to the elements of formal Christian discipleship found in category 1, the early church engaged in other activities that were more informal in nature. We see in our passage another way that the early church spent time together was  ‘breaking bread in their homes.’
The early church community spent time with each other engaging in regular life activities. In the text, the explicit example is sharing a meal in people’s homes. This is an important look into the life of the early church.  It shows us that they did regular, everyday things together.  Everyday parts of life are essential for a gospel community to become a part of its people’s lifestyle. Disciples aren’t just made and friendships aren’t just born out of a formal bible study. These things happen out to dinner, running errands together, engaging in hobbies with one another.

As gospel communities, it is important that we spend time simply enjoying each other’s company while building relationships in informal settings. Informal settings, in different places and times, are essential contributors for a gospel community to become a part of its member’s lifestyles.  

After all, your group will only meet once a week. A once-a-week formal meeting is an event.  You must be intentional about creating op

Steps to Cultivating a Lifestyle of Community

In order for a gospel community to be an integrated part of its people’s lifestyle, a leader must intentionally integrate the elements of categories 1 and 2 into the life of their GC. How do we make this happen?

1. The Leader Sets the Tone

A gospel community will default into an event if the group leader is not guiding the ship. The leader plays a vital role in steering the gospel community to become a part of your people’s lifestyle. As the leader works to intentionally integrate all five gospel community components in the formal gathering, they also have to strive to create informal opportunities outside of the gathering.

2. The Gathering Sets the Stage

There are five components to Gospel Communities at Mercyview: word, prayer, worship, fellowship, and mission. Each component plays an important role in helping the GC leader balance the group’s time together.  

Of these five components, four of them (word, prayer, worship, mission) are category 1 elements.  These components are essential elements of Christian discipleship, and must not be neglected. They are activities that God has ordained as different means to encounter him.

Fellowship is a category 2 element and is also an essential piece of the ‘in gathering experience.’
Fellowship is a broad term. It can look like a shared meal, snacks, board games, or conversation. Balancing these elements is critical to the gospel community's health and cultivation of a lifestyle over event culture. Without creating an environment for fellowship, a gospel community will only meet, and the danger of turning this weekly gathering into an event that can be discarded explodes.

3. More than Just Gathering

If a gospel community is going to become a valuable part of a member’s lifestyle, then it must meet outside of the weekly formal gathering. This next sentence is really important: the whole gospel community does not have to be present in these informal gatherings. Just because it is part of your lifestyle doesn’t mean it is the only part and the more you integrate the gospel community into your lifestyle the greater the chance that not everyone will make it to every single informal gathering.

When we make it a point to gather in informal ways - and in different places -  it allows members of the group to get to know each other in different contexts. Gathering more often provides more time together for building relationships.  Becoming a part of group members’ lifestyles requires time spent together.

It is up to the leader to initiate the process and to think creatively to create opportunities for the group to spend time together. However, as the gospel community moves from event (or series of events) into a lifestyle for its members, the initiative doesn’t have to stay with the leader alone. That’

A Closing Thought

At Mercyview we believe that the gospel community provides an avenue by which we can form a lifestyle characterized by the Christian community.  The gospel community will naturally default into an event without intentional leadership. If you are a gospel community leader, you must intentionally steer your group. If you aren’t the leader, you have the chance to encourage and propel your leader forward by enthusiastically engaging in community life.