Written by Isabel Ong, Singapore
In the fall of 2017, I exchanged the familiarity and comfort of my life in Singapore for life in Vancouver, a city with snow-capped mountains on the horizon that teemed with lakes, waterfalls, and the potential to meet a bear (!) while hiking.
Living overseas for the first time in my life was something I mostly experienced with wide-eyed wonder. But beneath the excitement, anxiety and fear kept bubbling up as I searched for a church and a Christian community I could call “home”. The culture and ways of connecting with people here were very different from what I was used to back home. People here treasure their privacy, so in some ways it takes a little longer to get to know them.
For months, I went to Sunday services, fiddling uncomfortably with my arms as people around me greeted one another while I felt completely unknown and unseen. It was hard to make friends because people tended to stick to their own groups and didn’t seem all that interested in building new friendships. As an extroverted introvert, I would often initiate conversations and join events, but would often feel unfulfilled afterward because it felt like I had not made any genuine connections with someone else.
Community was something that my spirit ached for. It was such a big part of my life in Singapore that to be bereft of deep, soul-giving friendships felt rather unsettling. I even entertained thoughts of buying a one-way plane ticket back to Singapore, because that was where my community was, and it just seemed like there was none to be found here.
Why can’t we live without community?
The very word brings to life a sense of warmth and joy. It conjures up images of people breaking bread together and praying over one another.
The Apostles, too, celebrated community in every aspect of their lives. As is recorded in Acts 2: 46-47, “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
To have a vital and vibrant Christian community is to pattern after the way of life that Jesus and His disciples modelled.
Community grows our faith
Some of my largest growth spurts in my faith journey have occurred in times that I met fellow believers to pray and worship together regularly. I remember when I was preparing for the “A” levels in Singapore and three friends and I would study together daily. During breaks, we would read the Bible, play worship songs on the guitar, and pray for each other. I was encouraged to seek God more and more each day as I saw how my friends desired to know God more.
That growth could have occurred in my own personal quiet time with God, but it was all the more dynamic and wonderful and precious to spend it in communion with fellow believers who were all hungry for God’s presence and spirit in their lives.
I dare say that our faith is stretched and challenged most when we are in community. And the best posture to have, when we want our faith to grow, is one of vulnerability and openness. This requires us to show up as ourselves, rather than feeling the need to pretend we are “good” Christians. It also involves listening well to someone’s doubts rather than convincing them to think otherwise.
Allowing ourselves to be authentic and honest about our struggles, fears, hopes, and desires with fellow believers leads to real breakthroughs–when we experience God’s life-transforming work in us.
Community grants us opportunities to serve others
We have not been created to exist in isolation. Rather, the Bible constantly exhorts us to serve one another—and community is where this takes place. Galatians 5:13 says, “Serve one another humbly in love”, and 1 Peter 4:10 says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”
Being in community has enabled me to put the needs of others before mine. It has allowed me to become more perceptive and aware of what fellow believers are going through and how I can help, encourage, or serve them in some way.
When my husband and I began attending a life group at our new church in Vancouver, we volunteered to host people in our one-bedroom apartment. Every week, we would have a potluck dinner together before Bible study.
This might sound very ordinary, but Canada is a lot larger than Singapore is, and some of our guests would drive for an hour to get to our home. Cheap food isn’t as available here compared to Singapore, so most of the time, people brought home-cooked food. I felt inspired by the time and commitment that this new group of friends showed amid their busy schedules.
Serving others by opening up our home every week and cooking for others—things I rarely did in Singapore—led me to think more deeply about how Jesus welcomed and ministered to so many strangers He encountered, and how table fellowship, where we come together despite differences in our cultural backgrounds and the jobs we hold, is crucial in our spiritual formation.
I’ve come to see how putting others’ needs before mine is liberating and joyful, enabling me to truly follow Christ’s footsteps and (hopefully) grow in humility, grace, and love.
Community edifies the church
As we engage in loving and serving one another and contributing to the common good, we strengthen the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12) and spur one another on toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24).
Whether it is preparing for a weekly bible study, whipping up a meal for a friend who is struggling, texting a word of encouragement to someone, or taking up a particular voluntary role in your church, every little action counts toward encouraging one another to become more and more Christ-like.
When we are intentional in building and investing in Christian community, we are able to live out God’s greatest commandment—to love Him with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength, and to love our neighbours as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31).
Community is life-giving. It is humbling. It is faith-enlarging. And it is such a precious reminder of His love for each and every one of us, no matter how different or how broken we are.
Community has been my lifeline in times when my faith has been shaken or weakened. It has spurred me to walk closer with Jesus. And often, it is only when I am amongst others that my faith in God can be put into action.
For five years now, I have been blessed to journey with the life group we first hosted in our Vancouver apartment. We are a group of people who couldn’t be more different in age, ethnicity, and cultural background, but we gather week after week because of a shared desire to know God more. We have laughed, prayed, worshipped, and played loads of fun games together. Because of them, my Tuesday nights have become so very special.
Finding and becoming part of a community here has taken lots of time and effort, and it has entailed being very intentional and prayerful about building community in the city God has called me to be at this point in time (instead of, say, buying a plane ticket out!).
My prayer is that you, too, will enjoy being with a community of like-minded believers who will grow, challenge, and edify you as you seek and live out God’s purposes for your life.
This was originally published on the writer’s blog here. This version has been edited by YMI.