Solitude and silence have long been touted for their benefits as spiritual disciplines. In the crowded, marginless West, there is still much merit to reclaiming their appropriate places in our lives. However, we would do well to learn community as spiritual discipline as well. Think of it this way. Whereas solitude calls for us to take time away from the crowds to pray, listen, worship, and communicate with God alone, community calls for us to be the presence of Christ among others. Solitude and community are both necessary; they also both tend to be either ignored, or receive out-of-balance focus.
Jesus understood the need for balance. He regularly went away from the crowds to pray. Just as often, he spent time with friends, both new and old, believers and not so much, usually with a preference for those who are despised, marginalized, and hopeless.
What benefits might there be in pursuing intentional community?
For starters, here are a few:
1. Learning to love your neighbor as yourself (yes, this especially includes your enemies).
2. Learning to practice the fruits of the spirit, realizing that others are showing forbearance to you even as you are attempting to do so for them.
3. Learning to give, not out of legalistic duty, but out of love.
4. Learning to become vulnerable, allowing others to speak into your life.
5. Refining your character is integral to the abovementioned points.
There are others. This is just a hint of the possibilities. Some who are reading this might wonder, “How do I get there? My life is too crazy. Kids, spouse, work, church, school, expectations, duties, chores, and so on. I just don’t have time to waste when there is so much to do.” My response is, since when is community a time stealer? Since when is living life among others a distraction? This is where solitude and community can work well together to provide balance to marginless lives. By reclaiming time intentionally through choices we make, we deliberately provide margin to slow down, develop meaningful interpersonal relationships, and recover some measure of peace as a result.
If authentic community were to make a recovery in our society, then the need for accountability groups would wane because the former would naturally stake its claim over its rightful territory in the lives of people; it would do so naturally, and much more effectively with greater satisfaction and deeper spiritual growth impact.