I just got off the phone with a missionary to remote China. The struggle for the missionaries has not been the language, the food, or the culture; but rather the relational tension between the missionaries on their team. They feel a loss of creditability in sharing the gospel because of their inability to get along with one another. Jesus words, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” taunt them. One wonders why unity even among committed believers is difficult.
The community of believers in which a disciple finds himself is by design. In his sovereignty, the Holy Spirit knows with whom each disciple needs to interrelate. As Inagrace Tieterich correctly states: “The role of the Holy Spirit is to form loving community: to create a people for God’s name, who bear God’s likeness in their character, as that is seen in their behavior” . This community designed by the Holy Spirit will not only expose each person for who he is, but it will also give each individual the opportunity to learn how to lovingly relate to other believers in order that their relationship with one another can be a witness of the gospel to the world. My friend Bill Greene says that he knows where the Lord is at work in his life based on who the Lord places into his immediate world for him to love; those from whom he cannot escape.
Robert Bellah sees living in community as an essential component for our own growth and for the benefit of others. He writes: “We find ourselves not independently of other people and institutions but through them. We never get to the bottom of ourselves on our own. We discover who we are face to face and side by side with others in work, love, and learning. All of our activity goes on in relationships, groups associations, and communities ordered by institutional structures and interpreted by cultural patterns of meaning” . It was no accident that Jesus made disciples in a group.
A couple closing thoughts:
- Conflict in a community of believers is not a disruption to the purpose of God but rather they are an opportunity to teach your disciples how to love each other, how to build unity and therefore expanding the kingdom of God.
- Your disciple’s interaction with the others in a community will help you know your disciple. It is more difficult to get to know a person apart from community.
- Each individual, no matter how difficult, is an essential element in the Spirit’s building unity in the group. (Be careful not to think, “This could be a good community if only Jessica were not on the team.” In reality, Jessica may be the key to building the unity on the team that the Lord intends.)
 Inagrace T. Tieterich, Missional Community, Cultivating Communities of the Holy Spirit, Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North American (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), 148.
 Robert Bellah, et al., Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), p. 84.