I am dedicating this entire shout-out to this post by Adriel Sanchez on the difference between a “friendship community” and a “gospel community.” As a pastor of a church that wants to engage all people with all of Jesus, I find that what Sanchez is talking about here is essential--if we really want an “all people”-type of community that is truly in relationship with each other.
Here’s the main point of the post: “Our friends are great, but as Christians, our primary commitment should be to a local church that is created by the gospel. This type of community displays God’s power to bring together diverse people, crushes rather than cultivates our idolatries, and affords us the true oversight Scripture prescribes.”
The whole post is worth the read but for those short on time, here are some highlights from the blog post:
“In your friendship community, the community is created out of shared interests. Your friendship community looks a lot like you and likes all the same things you like. That’s normal and natural (we all gravitate toward people who are like us), but the community that God creates is supernatural…Gospel communities aren’t based on life stages or personal preference but on a common Savior. When this Savior brings people together who are very different and unites them in love, it displays the power of the gospel in a way that your friendship community doesn’t.”
“It isn’t surprising when a group of friends who enjoy one another’s company love each other (the world has that). Sadly, your friendship community doesn’t end up saying much about the gospel’s power to reconcile enemies (Eph. 2:14–16), not to mention the fact that since this community is based primarily on your shared interests, you spend more time talking about those things than the gospel. If you commit yourself to a gospel community, however, you’ll find yourself attached to a group of people with whom you might not share anything in common except Jesus! It will be hard and sometimes frustrating, but the gospel is able to sustain this community and therefore gets credit for its existence.”
“Second, your friendship community contributes to the thriving of your various idols in a way that a gospel community wouldn’t. I know you hate your sin and want to find ways to root it out of your life, but have you considered that since you and your friendship community have many of the same likes, you might also have many of the same struggles?... Think about how much more sanctifying a gospel community would be. In a gospel community, our shared affinity toward Jesus should drive us to speak the truth in love to each other in such a way that it brings our individual sins into the light and suffocates them with God’s grace.”
“Your friendship community alone cannot provide the type of ecclesiastical oversight the Bible presupposes. Remember all those verses about, “submitting to your leaders and elders” (Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 5:5)? What do you think those verses mean? Who are the elders currently “watching over your soul” who will one day “give an account” for their oversight? Were they ordained like Paul talked about in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1? If you ever fell into some horrible sin, who are the people God has placed over you who can restore you to the church (Gal. 6:1; Matt. 18:15–20)? The Bible seems to assume that Christians are so attached to a gospel community that this oversight actually occurs. Unfortunately, since your friendship community has replaced a genuine gospel community, it can’t. Because you’re not a member of any local church, there’s no one to whom you’re accountable besides yourself and your friendship community.”