Shepherd’s Care: Community

In reading Mark 3:13-19 we are struck with the plural words: those, they, twelve, and apostles.  The whole passage is set in the context of community.

We make no greater mistake in ministry than practicing it alone. We become what Henri Nouwen called, “lonely ministers practicing lonely ministry.”  And over the years, various pieces of evidence have surfaced to document that many clergy are living very lonely lives.

From the beginning, it was not so.  Jesus called the twelve into community.  As they drew closer to him, they were simultaneously coming closer to each other.  The formation Jesus envisioned for them would take place in the context of friendship.  That is still the “Jesus model” today.

In community we find our identity, because no one can become fully human without some social dimension. In community we find our nurture, because we benefit from the wisdom and counsel of others.  In community we find our strength, because we have people to encourage us and to pick us up when we fall down.  In community we find our mission (what Alan and Debra Hirsch call ‘communitas’), because we are never gathered for the sole purpose of “being blessed.”

Besides that, community is just plain fun.  We hear the sounds of laughter and catch the notes of joy most often in groups.  We can only imagine how many times Jesus and the twelve laughed, joked, and shared the humor that comes with being alive.  All this, and more, was part of their spiritual formation—and it must be part of ours.  Without community, we become what John Wesley called “holy solitaries”—and that was not a compliment.

The spiritual life in general and ministry in particular becomes what God intends it to be when we trade in the singular pronouns (I, me, mine) for the plural ones (we, us, ours).   

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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