Why does community release transforming power to learn?
Recent studies identify that belonging is one of the powerful motivations for adult learners.
God fashioned us to connect as social beings. Creating a culture in which both the learners and teachers feel respected by and connected to one another develops a relaxed, stimulating place to maximize learning. This mutual cooperation with a natural give-&-take in a learning culture releases transforming power in community and reflects God’s design. This motivates adult learners.
However, it’s not just meeting in a group. For instance, accountability groups or groups to read and dialog about a book are popular. If we come and just download our problems, even if we get prayer, we will ultimately struggle. We must center the group around God’s infallible Word if we are gathering together to experience LifeChange. Other groups accomplish great purposes, like a beneficial task. What I’m focusing on in this article are groups centered on God’s Word, trusting the Spirit to give insight, and putting truth into practice to encounter life.
Let’s look at 1 John to explore community and the transforming power it brings. The Apostle John wrote 1 John some fifty years after the death and resurrection of Christ. John writes all his books from this maturity forged through fifty+ years walking faithfully with Jesus. He invites us to gaze through the broad lens of “that which was from the beginning” (1:1). Certainly, this includes the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. I also understand John pointing to the beginning of time, like he also does in his Gospel in John 1:1.
Where can we go to get clarity regarding the power of community centered around koinonia?
The farther back we go, the farther forward we see.
How did God design humanity in Genesis chapters 1 and 2, the book of beginnings?
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness. [So] God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them” male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27).
With all His creative options open, God chose to make humanity in His image, like Him as no other created being, not even angels. Humanity is the crown-jewel of His creation, fashioned as much like an Uncreated, infinite God as a created, finite being could be.
What is this God like that reflects Himself in and through us?
To answer thoroughly, read the entire Bible through the lens of faith with this question in mind!
In short though. Before anything else existed, this Family-of-Three always related in perfect interdependence…lacking nothing. Their delight and satisfaction with One Another in their mutual, joy-filled, life knew no bounds. As a deeply intimate, mutually serving, amazingly creative and powerful relational Community, they shared life in common. Life must be multiplied to reach the zenith of its fullness.
As we look at Jesus’ relationship on earth with the Father, we gain more insight. Observe their mutual encouragement and support as they ministered together as a team. Community was not just something Jesus does, He embraced community as who He is, one with the Father. What love and deference, honor and respect characterize the relationship between the Father and Son, like our relationships with one another. Begin with these scattered verses to whet your appetite to read through the Gospels, especially John. Matthew 3:17; John 14:25; John 5:17; Mark 9:7; John 14:10. Jesus’ prayer for us in John 17:20-23 longs to see such relationships between His people since Jesus is the model for human living.
So, community is not only something we do but even more who we are. God did not simply design us for community, like an add on to enjoy. He fashioned us as community, one with Him. This relational, Triune God determined to open the circle of His intimate Family relationship. He shares His unending life with those fashioned in His image through faith in Christ.
What if we as His followers see community as an optional add-on, rather than a vital, necessary aspect of who we are?
If our picture of God does not include community, our mental picture is a stripped-down caricature of God. It’s similar with humanity. Without community, our view then becomes a tragic caricature. We are necessary to one another, as much as the Father, Son and Spirit are necessary to Each Other in the Godhead. Without community, the relational Trinity is not God. Without connected relationships with others in community, we settle for less than God intends. This stunts the fruitfulness God designed for us in our lives and blocks His transforming power set free in and through community. Jesus gives us insight into how crucial connected relationships are when He states…
“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20).
Return to the beginning with me for more insight into how essential community is. Read Genesis 1 quickly and count how many times the Bible says that “it was good” in the six days of creation. Then in Genesis 1:31, Scripture caps off the creation account by stating, “it was very good” after creating humanity in God’s image and likeness. Now read Genesis 2:18, the first “not good” in the Bible.
The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone”
What does Genesis say was “not good”?
This is God’s unchangeable law of design. It’s not good for God’s relational being created in His image to be alone, just as the relational Trinity cannot exist in isolation. The second half of the verse describes the specific answer for Adam at that time as the only human being. Eve brought community to Adam and a woman was also the necessary counterpart to multiply the race. However, the overriding principle has less to do with marriage, and more a glimpse into God’s creation design. It’s not good for humans to be alone…period. When a prisoner earns the most severe punishment, what does the warden do? Sends him to solitary confinement.
The relationship of the Father and Son with One Another on earth is our model because God created us community. God made us with community as an essential aspect of our indivisible essence. Therefore, we learn best when we align together with transforming power released through community.
Towards what kind of community is John calling followers of Jesus?
Let’s return to 1 John for mature insight from this old warrior. In two short verses, John describes the earthly ministry of Jesus (1:1-2). Then he quickly moves on.
Now, what is so crucially important to John that he brushes over such astounding, life-transforming truth about the life of Jesus?
We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3 emphasis).
The word translated “fellowship” is the word koinonia in the language of the NT. The broad meaning of koinonia describes a partnership with active commitment to each other to share something together. Koinonia is a dynamic partnership, the sharing together of mutually committed partners. This word is used of Peter and John who had koinonia in the fishing business. They had an active, mutually shared and responsible partnership to earn their living together by fishing. Fishing brought them together as they shared on equal, friendly and fully engaged terms.
As Christians, what brings us together to share life?
In socialization (one inadequate current description for “fellowship”), each person is free to independently choose what is central and to decide when to come or go. I relate directly with you, on my terms, when and how I want to. Socialization aligns with our western individualism driven by a “me-first” consumerism that also infects the church at times.
By strong contrast, the independence of socialization is a far cry from the interdependence of koinonia. Koinonia doesn’t relate directly with others, but indirectly through the Trinity. Koinonia possesses an indirect relationship because it’s born out of our shared life of the resurrected Christ. I relate with you by joining the Father and Son as they love and relate with you. So, we relate with God and with one another on His terms, not on ours. All our human relationships become triangulated. They first passed through the Father, Son and Spirit before touching others with His love (John 13:34). When I meet with another person, I consciously ask, “How would Jesus treat this person?” Koinonia demands and gives far more than socialization.
“I choose to look at people through God, using God as my glasses, colored with His love for them” (Frank Laubach).
As Christians, we do not come together simply because we like each other (although liking is nice!) What we share in common is the life of Jesus. In koinonia, it’s not our mutual compatibility that joins us together, nor our common interests, nor our race, politics, doctrine, principals, moral ethics or existing friendships.
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).
Koinonia challenges us to relate in equality on the basis of Christ, not based on our similarities or our differences. As members of God’s forever Family, we experience and pass on His co-love, even to those tough to love. Look at Jesus’ Twelve. He invited those who were natural, hated enemies into the oneness of the new culture He formed.
“The life of God in the world does not have its meaning in isolated units, but in a fellowship of those who share that life in Him”
(Reuben Welch, We Really Do Need Each Other).
That’s koinonia. It’s not only our design, but it reflects the deepest longing of our hearts.
Of course, we ought to be nice to each other and enjoy casual times of socialization together. It’s fun when we share common interests. These add a lot. However, the one essential that really counts is our shared common life in Christ, koinonia.
“Too often we are together as Christians doing the things we like to do together—volley ball, parties, teas, leagues, receptions and what not. Or we get together and talk about cars and sports and babies and clothes and weather…and we come away having talked and laughed and enjoyed ourselves; but strangely empty and lonely….” (Reuben Welch, We Really Do Need Each Other, pp. 34-35).
These things belong to socialization. Socialization is not bad (PDF to compare and contrast koinonia with socialization). It’s part of community but falls far short of the mutual, covenantal commitment in relational koinonia in community.
How is it possible to experience such intimacy with our Family-of-Three and with one another so we are able to multiply small faith-communities?
Because Jesus is praying for such groups to multiply as the foundation of the church He promises to build.
In His prayer in John 17, Jesus prayers for Himself (1-5), for His current disciples (6-19, i.e., Peter, James, John, etc.), and for His future disciples, for you and me (20-26). Read what Jesus prays specifically for us in John 17:20-26. Read it rapidly and repeatedly. Then again slowly and reflectively.
Jesus prays this for us!
Let’s focus only on 17:20-23 for now, a powerful lens to more fully understand koinonia and release transforming power in community (John 17:19, “sanctified,” changed). Again Jesus points to His life with His Father as the model for our common life shared with God the Father and with one another. Notice the oneness and unity Jesus intends us to forge in a natural learning community as we partner with the Spirit.
“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20-23, emphasis).
Such intimacy with our Family-of-Three is almost too much for our created minds to grasp. Except that Jesus prays this and the Holy Spirit bears witness that we are Abba’s child.
[“You] will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you”
(John 14:20, emphasis).
We cannot overstate the significance of this oneness.
“The Father’s Son became a human being, one of us. The simple point of such an amazing move is that he wanted to be with us, and to share life with us. [The] God who came to be with us is a God of relationship. The Son did not come alone. He became human as the Father’s Son. [Jesus] brought his relationship with his Father [into] his incarnate relationship with us….”
God likes to hang out with us! Shared life with His Father is the only life that Jesus has. The primary concern of Jesus was building relational depth with His disciples around His infallible Word, like He has with His Father. Such life forges a relationship of openness and honesty, integrity with a deep recognition that we are a necessity to each other as we reach toward our highest and best. This releases transforming power to learn.
When I’m in isolation, I sense something crucial missing. I have an empty place in my heart. We commonly describe that emptiness as loneliness, and it’s debilitating. Casual connection is not life-giving. And it distorts the Good News to a needy world. Do you realize how high the stakes really are? Do you grasp why we can’t settle for anything less that Jesus’ dream for community prayed into our lives in John 17:20-26?
When we live out such koinonia with one another, the world looks on and begins to believe the Reality that Jesus came to give us new life with a new culture. Our oneness of heart is the criterion God gives the world to judge whether our message is truthful and life-giving. “That the world may believe….” “Then the world will know….” Our intentional relationships are unique, affirming kinds of relationships like the world has scarcely seen.
This is the responsible partnership of our common life together into which we are drawn to invest our time and energy. This best occurs in small groups, centered around relationship with His Father and practicing His Word, like the first Small Group. And this is what God designed us for. Jesus (the one who has never broken a promise) promises…
“I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18b).
What is the intended end? What does a disciple of Jesus look like in the 21st century?
Shortly before He went to be with His Father, Jesus gave a short, concise, powerful vision of what a disciple looks like and how we can multiply disciples. It’s commonly called the “Great Commission,” as Jesus commissions all His follower throughout the ages into His rescuing Kingdom army. Jesus describes what a committed follower of Jesus looks like in Matthew 28:18-20. He gives one command to His followers (“make disciples of all people groups”) followed by three dynamic pathways to express this multiplying discipleship.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
- Make disciples by going through life with the intention to connect people with His Father (John 20:21). Prioritize our relationships with our unbelieving friends (“invest”) for the purpose of inviting these acquaintances to come to faith as you “invite” them into open “Invest & invite.”
- Make disciples by being immersed (baptized) as God initiates this union with the Father, Son and Spirit instantly when our hearts connect through faith in Christ. Then this experience deepens over our lifetime as we cultivate enjoyment of His presence.
- Multiply disciples by teaching others to do what Jesus taught His disciples to know and do. First and foremost, Jesus modeled and taught to live loved by His Father.
So, how do we teach others “to obey everything” Jesus commanded?
“Teach to do everything….”
During His life on earth, Jesus gave over 300 specific, recorded commands. How can we ever pass all these along? Not to worry! Jesus gave a reply in response to one of His antagonists. He concisely summarized the entire OT and all His NT commands with two cogent points.
Love God and love others.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22:36-40).
A disciple of Jesus loves God with her/his whole heart and loves other Christians and also the world like Jesus does as we rub shoulders with them (John 13:34). We live this out in the “mystery of godliness” (1 Timothy 3:16, NASB). Even as we grow mature, mystery still remains in relating to our Uncreated God.
As an aside, 21st century technology makes it easy to do distance learning electronically. This is a boon to transmit information. However, God designed life to be passed on face-to-face. When the Father chose to bring His eternal life to a lost world, He did not choose technology, but His Son. Only a life can impact a life. Is your purpose information or formation?
What size of group is best to set the transforming power in community free?
Depends! What’s the purpose of your group?
Jesus modeled three specialized groups, each for a unique purpose, and so with varied parameters. I deal with this in more detail under my home page, Disciples Multiplying Disciples.
Come & See:
A four-month open group with highly relational conversations. Why? For the purpose of shifting casual disciples towards higher commitment. You will find this mostly in John 1:35-51 at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and with the No specific size. Jesus met with one or two privately (a 21st century coffee meeting) and taught up to 5,000 men plus women and children privately (perhaps the equivalent of our all-church service). He most often taught them through parables, a story with a powerful spiritual point (Matthew 13:34). This may be analogous to our weekly church service.
Come & Follow Me:
A nine-month, probably semi-closed group to sow the essential nutrients of the new soil or culture that Jesus brings for His faith-communities. His disciples watched and learned and did very little ministry. Read Mark 1:16-3:12 for the best description of this training tier. Jesus’ teaching and actions majored on a very few foundational nutrients.
Come & Be with Me:
A twenty-month closed group with twelve, probably broken down into groups of four (perhaps three). This would be what we generally consider discipleship equipping for ministry. As great a master as Jesus was as a Discipler, even He lost one.
Our ideal group is large enough to experience a similar relationship as between the Father, Son and Spirit, the first SmallGroup. It’s small enough to experience the “in-the-midst” presence of Jesus (Matthew 18:20). Additionally, for maximum spiritual health, help each connect with a larger faith-community to keep from becoming a clique and to experience the Father moving among a larger group. The larger, open service is also a great place to invite the lost you invest in.
How does this sound to you? Are you all-in tapping into transforming power of God’s Word?
We learn best when we align together with the transforming power of community. Since God created us community like Him, the relationship of the Father and Son with One Another is our model. A small group like the first SmallGroup, Father, Son and Spirit, exudes their relationship. In a spiritually intimate way, we encourage and support one another as a team. We mutually serve the highest and best of others with love and deference, honor and respect, like the Father, Son and Spirit with Each Other. All centered around a bias towards doing God’s Word since such a relational community releases transforming power.
Let me just quickly touch on another study on how people learn related to community. God made us unique, and everyone learns in a unique way. Studies indicate that most people learn in one primary way of these four unique ways. For me, I’m a strong intellectual learner and have strengthened two of the other three categories over the years. As we know ourselves better, it helps us to learn and then to add that special touch to community learning.
Which is your personal, preferred way of learning to experience transforming power in community?
- S – Somatic Learners – “Soma” means body. This is hands-on, tactile, kinesthetic learning by doing, often with direct physical involvement. “I can do that.”
- A – Auditory Learner – Learns best through hearing, including retelling, interacting with others. “I hear what you’re saying.”
- V – Visual Learner – They picture their own thoughts. Images, word-pictures, diagrams and demonstrations are important. “I get the picture.”
- I – Intellectual Learner – Linear learners who learn one thought after another, one link after another. They tend to be more abstract, reflective, internal, cognitive. “That makes sense.”
My heart yearns to be a part of such a natural learning community that celebrates variety to release transforming power.
Have you become a vital part to build such a group yet?
- Read the article on Koinonia & Socialization, Covenant and S-A-V-I Learner to dig deeper into the transforming power of koinonia in community.
- Print out the PDF of this web page and digest it.
- God to my website, com for the fourth of the seven essentials of sowing a natural learning community, Responds by Encountering Life with God’s Truth.