Banding Together Again: Rediscovering Relational Discipleship

You were made for community. You were made for connection. You were made to connect with the God who created you in love. And you were made to connect with other people that God created in love. From the perspective of Christian theology, the conviction that we were created for connection, for community, comes from who God is. Christians believe that God is Trinity—three persons in one essence—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One God. The Trinity is one of the deepest and most beautiful mysteries of Christian theology. Among other things, it tells us that God is, in God’s very life, community. And God (who is three persons in one being) created men and women in his image. Listen to the beginning of our story:

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Gen. 1:26–27)

God’s nature of community is expressed in the beginning of this passage. The passage does not say that God said, “Let me make humankind in my image.” It says, “Let us make humankind in our image.”

We are hardwired for connection. It is what we were made for. A God who loves us perfectly without hesitation or condition created us. We were created to receive love from God and others and to respond by loving God and others. The importance of connection with God and others is seen throughout the New Testament. Before his passion, Jesus prayed for us to be brought into the eternal triune community, that we who come to believe “may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you” (John 17:21). Our witness comes through our incorporation in God. “May they also be in us,” he continued, “so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Verse 23 says, “I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Humans connect. We are at our best when we are connected to God and each other in healthy, life-giving community. Things start coming apart when we are not. To put it strongly: it is not a matter of whether we will connect with something, but to what we will connect. People who are not connected to God and to healthy life-giving relationships search for connection in dark places, even if that search takes more life than it can ever give. People who have gone through the dark valley of addiction and been led back toward healing and wholeness are able to recognize that a key factor in their slide into powerlessness was a feeling of disconnection from those closest to them.

Community seems to be in vogue right now. It is socially acceptable to unabashedly seek community. Younger people are especially transparent in their desire to find vulnerability and authenticity in community. The search for community, however, has led many to look for it in less than ideal places, such as the disembodied world of social media. The cultural value of authenticity encourages a kind of emotional exhibitionism. Many people share deeply emotional and vulnerable information in contexts that, by the nature of their format, are necessarily superficial, even dangerous.

More and more churches are reawakening to the need people have for community, which cannot be met in the context of a large gathering like a weekly worship service. Community, small groups, fellowship, accountability: these are all words that increasingly seem to be on the lips of church leaders and folks with the best intentions. They want to help other people grow in their relationship with God and others.

Unfortunately, churches are often better at naming the importance of community than they are at facilitating the kind of deep community that can be an appropriate and safe place for intimate and vulnerable sharing. I once worshipped for months at a church that talked about how important their small-group ministry was every week during the announcements in worship. But my wife and I could not figure out where these small groups were. The bulletin gave no information about how to join a small group or where they met, although it had an overwhelming amount of information about things that were happening in the church that week. We felt like the church was naming one of our deepest desires and needs without being able to actually meet those needs.

Our sense is that more and more people are aware of their need for community. People are searching for intimacy and vulnerability with others. And yet, it seems people often feel most alone and unknown in church. Too often, Christians have avoided real intimacy and vulnerability with those in their family of faith. Instead of being able to tell the truth about what is really going on in our lives, we pretend that everything is fine. Sometimes this is the truth. Often it is not.

Does the church have anything to offer to people whose lives aren’t always fine? People who are aware that they are sometimes not in control? Can a real believer also experience an overwhelming sense of brokenness, devastation, or even just sadness? We were made for community. So why is it that the church so often settles for triviality rather than the kind of deep knowing, acceptance, and mutual love that is found in the life of the Holy Trinity?

In his book The Meaning of Marriage, Timothy Keller beautifully described the function of being known and loved in the particular community that God intends between a husband and wife:

To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.

Fully known. Fully loved. This is what is already ours in Christ. And yet so many of us struggle to experience this at the core of our being because we have not let another person fully know us. And so we struggle to feel unconditional love.

The band meeting is about creating communities where people will experience deep change by the grace of God, where they are fully known and fully loved by God and others in a committed small group. In our experience, this kind of community is essential if you want to grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Do you want to learn more about band meetings? Do you long to engage in this life-transforming approach to discipleship? Get your copy of The Band Meeting: Rediscovering Relational Discipleship in Transformational Community by Scott Kisker and Kevin Watson from our store now. As you read the book, you’ll: Discover a proven discipleship model for growing in love of God; (2) Learn a practical approach to accountability with same-gender groups; (3) Appreciate that richness of the early Methodist tradition of spiritual formation.

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