A few weeks ago, during staff prayers, we were encouraged to think back on the moments when we first gave our life to Jesus. For me this was at a youth camp. I had not grown up as a Christian and had reluctantly agreed to go with my friends who were part of the local youth group. When I eventually got there, I heard speakers every night talk about who God was and what He did. I can’t say I can recall anything that was taught that week but I gave my life to Jesus because I was filled with a sense of belonging.
The camp was much like any other, it had a great programme of activities, inspiring team of leaders, good food - but it was far more than that. For ten days we had done life with one another, from the wacky to the mundane – it was community.
The more time we spent together, the easier it became to be vulnerable with one another. As the week went on and our barriers came down, the more I became aware of others pursuing a personal relationship with Jesus and began to ask questions. The Holy Spirit filled our marquee and the temporary community that had been built there. As we grew together, it became a place where the fruit of the spirit was in abundance – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control (Gal 5:22-23) and there was real sense of belonging – both to God and to the community. That community had loved me into God’s family. It was so attractive to me that I wanted to be part of it.
This was the start of my life as a Christian and has since shaped my heart for youth work and more broadly for the power of real community.
Having just celebrated Pentecost, we’ve seen Jesus’ promise in John 14 fulfilled; “I will ask the Father and He will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever” (v15). When the Holy Spirit came upon the people at Pentecost – the first Christian community was formed. It was formed out of a shared, deep experience of the Holy Spirit. Just a little further on in John 14, Jesus continues “Those who love me will keep my word and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (v23). Real community is where we are at home with one another and with God. But that is not all…
‘The community the spirit creates is not only a place of intimacy, it is also a place of mission – or rather because it was a place of intimacy it was also a place of mission. These Christians did not set about intentionally to engage in mission: it just happened, effectively as a by-product of the intimacy they experienced’ (Mark Berry & Philip Mounstephen).
The power of real community with each other and with God is that it can’t help but grow.
I still continue to serve on ‘Sandiley’ summer camp and over the past few years I have had the blessing of seeing God work in amazing ways with the youth groups we have taken from St Mark’s. I am often asked by young people ‘why can’t church be more like camp?’. I think it can.
I think that church can be a place of genuine belonging – of ‘home’, where we have deep, unfiltered relationships with one another and with God. Where we prioritise fun and spend time together with no other purpose than just to know one another better and where we invite Holy Spirit into our midst. I think this makes for the kind of church that can’t help but be missional and where it is no longer difficult for us to share who Jesus is but it is simply a ‘by product’ of our passionate and authentic community.