I had always thought of Christian community as the act of sharing life together. From the day-to-day act of sharing a simple meal to the momentous milestone of celebrating marriage, I felt fortunate that my Community Group had truly become my family in New York.
However, as my Group continued to meet regularly and deepen our relationships with one another, there was also a creeping sense of inward momentum. We continued to focus on one another, pray and talk amongst each other, and build roots that were deeper — but not necessarily broader.
As Christians, we are called to pursue Shalom — the total flourishing of every dimension. While my Community Group regularly thought about the flourishing of ourselves and our daily lives, we were not focused on the true purpose of Christian community: to bring about counter-cultural change in our society at large by pointing to Christ.
In December, my Community Group was invited to serve at His Toy Store. For those not familiar, His Toy Store is a pop-up store where low-income families in our neighborhoods can shop for Christmas gifts for their children at no cost. We traded in our typical Friday evening to unpack, sort, and wrap presents in preparation for the parents who would be Christmas shopping. The next morning, we greeted over 200 families and helped them shop.
As my Community Group reflected on the weekend, we were each eager to share our own experiences, which included learning how to expertly wrap odd-shaped gifts like a basketball and realizing that Dora the Explorer is still inexplicably popular after 16 years of her existence.
More importantly, we also shared stories of the conversations we had with the families: how empowered a father felt through the simple act of being able to pick out a gift for his child; how a mother gushed about being treated like a queen as we offered her coffee and guided her through a personal shopping experience.
I’d love to be able to say that this one experience immediately transformed my community. Instead, His Toy Store has been one of several experiences that have led to a slow and subtle, but real, change in our group. Whether volunteering with HFNY, engaging in local community initiatives, or stopping to have a conversation with the homeless man on our way to work, these regular rhythms of service have led to a gradual but steady change in the intent of our community. I can see it in the way our topics of conversation have shifted to focus less on our own lives and more on issues of justice and equality in the world. I can see it in what we pray as a group — we are quicker to think of those who are marginalized than we once were. And I can see it in the personal responsibility we feel to enable justice and empower others through our work and relationships.
Serving with my Community Group has been a reminder that the primary purpose of community is not for my own fulfillment, but to be outward facing and make this city more whole by pointing to Christ. My Community Group is still very much my family in New York. We like to share meals and send each other funny pictures of dogs. Yet, through service, we have glimpsed God’s intent and design for community, the purpose of which is greater than just serving those on the inside, but turning our focus outward to seek the flourishing of those around us.