Updated: May 28, 2021
I thought this would be a good time to share about my personal journey in the church as it pertains to community living (which to me means Kingdom living as the Body of Christ). I, by no means, have this figured out and am at a point in my life where I am seeking new discovery, wisdom and revelation daily to answer some of the questions in my heart on how to find, nurture and develop kingdom living in this unique day and age that we live. That said, here is my journey and my thoughts on living within true kingdom community as a part of the Body of Christ.
I was born into a Christian family. I am number two of seven kids. I am the oldest boy and have three brothers and three sisters. I was raised in a home that valued community. It wasn't a choice; it was a lifestyle. Only a few years before I was born, my parents got radically saved from being hippies in the San Francisco Bay Area (the home of the summer of love and sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll) to being on fire for everything that came with being disciples of Jesus. Their conversion was not just a prayer they prayed but rather lives set free from demons, addictions and a lifetime of pain - true transformation from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. Their encounter with Jesus became the foundation for my family and our experience of what it is to be adopted into the Body of Christ.
Honestly, I cannot remember a time in my childhood where we didn't have members from our church living in our home. My parents took "laying down their lives for others" quite seriously and our home was always open to anyone in need. This included many foster children and eventually having 4 adopted siblings. Yet even bigger than just who we had in our home, my understanding of what the "Church" actually was has always been so much greater than attending a Sunday service once a week. This is all because the Christian environment from which I was raised, simply put we just "did" life together. We weren't "a part of a local church" we ALL made up "the Church" and spent our lives together. All of my early friendships were developed while our parents had home group meetings and all us kids played together outside, in the back bedrooms or in the garage (depending on the home). We would be together when there was a death in the family, a graduation, a baptism, a financial crisis and any and every life event that would take place. Sunday was simply the overflow of the relationships that had been developed Monday through Saturday. I have very few childhood memories that don't include other families from our church community. For me this has forever shaped my view of what true Christian community (kingdom community) can and should look like.
Now fast-forward to my adult life and things have looked much different from my childhood experiences. When I was twenty-seven, I moved away from my family, church and friends to live in San Diego. My brother, whom I have always been very close to, had moved down to San Diego along with a couple of my life-long friends a couple of years prior and I was ready to explore a new life in a new city. However, soon after I moved down, they all began to move away, and what once was a close-knit group of friends doing life together became a spread out and fragmented group with friends living in different parts of the country and those who I was living next to were all busy doing their own thing. I had gone from living as a part of a community where church and community were one and the same to an environment where I wasn't known and did not know anyone (aside from my brother and his wife - as we ended up living together for the first few years I lived in San Diego). Now, for the first time in my life I had to find a church, a community, a people to do life with - to be known and to know others in a way that stirred up and inspired Christ-like living within each of us.
This proved to be so much harder than I had ever anticipated. What I didn't realize then that I do now is that a community developed from a move of God and the transformational power of His work in the lives of those He saved, is a whole lot different from meeting people at a local church and developing relationships based on a commonality - even when that common thread is Jesus. I had been born into a Kingdom community of believers who were radically saved and gave up everything to experience the fullness of what a life of following after Jesus had to offer. Now as an adult living outside of that environment, I found it so very difficult to find anything close to what I was familiar with and even longing for in my life.
Now is a good time to make a disclaimer: Please understand that there were many failures and flaws in the church community I grew up in. My siblings are the first to submit a long list of ways that the church let them down and failed them, so I don't want to give the impression that I grew up in a Christian Utopia, because that doesn't exist this side of Heaven. My point in sharing my story in this way is to emphasize the profound and powerful positive impact this community had on me to show me what is possible. This is not an attempt to state the obvious: relationships are messy. Christian relationships are even messier, and living out Kingdom community is the messiest of all. With that said, I hope you can read this and understand that I am skipping some of the difficult stuff because I am confident, we all know too well the difficult stuff and perhaps have not experienced enough of the glorious stuff that is possible.
Back to my story, my thirties were filled with all of the jous and trials of being married with two little girls and surrounded by a different form of community. I have friends, I have a family and even have extended family around me as my parents lived near me again and my brother and his wife have kids the same age as mine. I was going to church and even began playing in a worship band. Still there was something missing - a sense of belonging to something bigger than the sum of all of our gifts and relationships. There was a distance, a disconnect. I was fully immersed in trying to juggle running a business and the needs of my wife and kids
This was not unique to me, most of us in my small band of friends and family were all dealing with their own circumstances of life. In spite of times of deep connection that we all had together, I still felt alone, and to some degre, unknown. I knew that my family knew me, but beyond that where was that feeling of togetherness and passion that comes from experiencing that "of one accord" type of relationships. I definitely had people around me that I trusted and confided in, but I longed for a deeper way of relating and doing life together than what I was experiencing. I needed a breakthrough, I needed transformation.
Now from that season on, what the Lord has done in my life (over the last twelve months in particular) can only be described as transformational. Do I now have a church that I attend regularly, am I surrounded by a group of people doing home church or revival meetings together, is my family firmly plugged into a local kingdom community of believers - actually, no. The reality is closer to the opposite. My family and I were called to move to South Carolina when the Lord opened up a job opportunity for my wife. She became the Music Director of a catholic church in a city and state that we knew nothing about and where we did not know anyone. We moved to this new environment feeling more like missionaries than anything else and three short weeks after we arrived the whole city and nation closed down due to COVID-19. My plan was to continue to run my business in San Diego remotely from South Carolina, but even that came to an abrupt end in June of 2020 due to the mandatory lockdowns in response to the coronavirus. So here we are in a new city and state, not knowing anyone, my kids are unable to go to school to meet new friends, all churches are closed, I am suddenly unemployed, and my wife is working from home (praise the Lord for the miracle of Leslie being able to not miss a single day of work through all of this). My dream of moving to a new place and finally finding a people and community is seemingly dashed. Yet what the Lord began at that time was something so significant and life altering I know there is no way to capture it fully through this post. I discovered the power of family.
It started with the gift of time. Time for my wife and I to go on long, daily, 2–3-hour walks where we bore our souls, shared our fears and our dreams, learned about each other and ourselves in a brand-new way. Suddenly we had time to get to know our kids in a new way. We spent the better part of six months together - REALLY together. During this time, we became the family we had always hoped we would be. Honest (sometimes brutally honest), loving, transparent, awkward, messy, but together in it all. I am now beginning to realize that true Kingdom Community MUST start in my own home. I cannot fully accomplish living out Kingdom Community if I am physically, emotionally, or spiritually absent from my family. Who we are together determines what type of community is developed beyond our family unit. It is the first building block to any Christ-like community. I have always heard about this and would even say that I have always believed this, but it has only been in this last year that I can honestly say I am finally living this truth. Now the fruit of this is beginning to show up in our lives. There is a new depth and identity that we have as a family that knows who we are so that we can be for others in a whole new way. We don't just think of having kids or families over to our house as a fun get together, but rather an opportunity and an appointment for the Lord to move and for relationships to develop. We have a whole new perspective on how to do life as a united team versus a house where everyone is focused on themselves and what we each individually can get from others (well, most of the time, lol).
This has now become the springboard for what I see the Lord doing in other areas and relationships in my life. For the past year the Lord has connected me with several on-line Christian community groups and has been uniquely connecting our hearts together in a way that I have never seen before. He has given me a new perspective on what might be possible for living as a part of a Kingdom Community. I see a global Body of Christ beginning to develop and form into a Kingdom Community that I never have even thought possible. Although there is a lot to uncover and learn, I see the Lord uniting the hearts of people all over the world, in different time zones, with different backgrounds and different gifting’s and experiences in the Lord. All this is happening in my life over zoom, Facebook, email, and chats. Yes, completely on-line! Is it different, yes! Does it take a lot more intentionality to develop true, deep relationships than in person, absolutely NOT! I have spent years with people in the church - face to face - working towards developing deeper, kingdom relationships that never scratched the surface to what I am experiencing with this powerful and passionate group on-line. Why?
1. God: what is impossible for man is possible for God. What He has demonstrated He can do using technology and hearts committed to seeking Him is limitless. Hasn't this global pandemic proven this very point?
2. When a group is created at its inception to see each other after the spirit and not after the flesh, it has a HUGE leg up over relationships created based on common interests, appearances and backgrounds. To know each other as God reveals it to us even before we have seen a photo or read a bio, is simply incredible. Funny thing is, this is how EVERYONE in the Body of Christ is supposed to see one another, after the spirit NOT the flesh. In this on-line environment we have been able to start our relationships without the hindrances of seeing people with our natural eyes first and then work towards seeing them as God sees them. In some ways it has made it so much easier for us to go deeper faster. Once we know each other (and are known by each other) we can launch into calling out who we really are and interrupting the things that contradict our true, God-given identities.
3. Although there is no substitute for personal contact since we are created as tactile beings, there is something I have discovered on this journey of developing kingdom community on-line and that is intentionality is key! Because we don't have the ability to read body language (even zoom doesn't reveal the whole context of our demeanor), we have to purposely choose to either remain superficial and hide ourselves OR become transparent, open and honest in our conversations. Go big or go home - so to speak. It only works if the mutual goal is authenticity. If we are really going to experience true community and to truly know and be known, then jumping in with both feet into the real and raw is essential.
Now the important other missing elements of completing this true and authentic Kingdom Community still have yet to be revealed. As I said before, I am on a journey in this and discovery and revelation are a daily thing. My biggest unanswered questions are how can we truly be in community without the family being involved. By this I mean, kids playing together, breaking bread together and doing the day-to-day messy things of life together. I would love nothing more than for my kids to have the experience of being surrounded by friends and family that do the daily life journey together. My family and I are just now scratching the surface of developing relationships within our community, but I ultimately would long for the same connections that I am experiencing on-line to be lived out right here where I live. I want my kids to be inspired by seeing others their age live out their walk with the Lord in different ways that demonstrate the nature of God. So far what I am seeing is powerful, but it hasn't translated over to my family in any impactful way. In order to have a more complete picture of kingdom living somehow it must transcend an individual experience and become a corporate experience where all of us AND our families are being called up, held accountable, and transformed into a greater likeness of Jesus than we are/were before we knew one another. Yes, there is a lot still to uncover, but I cannot deny that God is in this and when He is involved ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE. It is time to rediscover what it is to BE the Body of Christ and live in Kingdom community with other believers around the world.