Community, in its simplest form is a group of people who are involved by choice or proximity in each other’s lives. However, Christian community runs a bit deeper than this, and it doesn’t just show up by happenstance. During a recent mission trip to Mexico, I discovered a remarkable sense of community existed amongst our Mexican brothers and sisters in Christ.
Community, in its simplest form is a group of people who are involved by choice or proximity in each other’s lives. However, Christian community runs a bit deeper than this, and it doesn’t just show up by happenstance. During a recent mission trip to Mexico, I discovered a remarkable sense of community existed amongst our Mexican brothers and sisters in Christ. I often pondered, “ What makes them so tightly knit? Sure, they share a love for Jesus Christ, but what is it that they did that fostered such a strong sense of belonging? Ever since I arrived there I had this unequivocal understanding that I was part of something bigger than myself, and the love and joy that emanated from the stability of having a place in this community was remarkable to say the least. As my trip wound to an end, my thoughts turned to how I could take what I learned here and implement it at my church home in the States. Not only that, but as a professional educator, how could I take these lessons and implement them in my classroom? The following is what I have learned and have already begun or will put into place this upcoming school year.
Lessons on Community Building:
1. Know everyone’s name and use it when you talk to them. It’s amazing how something so simple can be so powerful and yet so often be overlooked. A person’s name is probably the most comforting and important word to them, so it stands to reason that calling a person by their name makes them feel accepted. What community have you ever felt a strong connection to where people didn’t even know your name?
2. Eat together. My Mexican family constantly came by to check on me and frequently invited me over for lunch or dinner. There’s something special about eating a meal together. As you eat together not only are physical needs being met, but emotional and spiritual ones as well. Therefore, eat lunch with your students (you can even bring pizza to Sunday school- trust me, they’ll love you for it).
3. Walk together in groups (Or go with numerous people to a specific destination….or really no destination at all). It’s strange, when reading scripture sometimes one has to wonder between healing and feeding people, teaching and preaching, walking on water and praying to His heavenly Father, when did Jesus actually have time to disciple His disciples? Of course all of the above was part of the process, but since He was constantly walking from one town to another with them, I’m convinced this is where much of the discipleship process took place. In Mexico, it seems wherever I was going, there was always at least one person with me. Even to take me to the airport, 4 people came. As Americans we might say that it was inefficient, but I think Mexicans would view it as an opportunity to be together. This idea of being together is an important one. So much of the Christian life is caught more than it is taught, so take every chance you get to be with your students (see Mk. 3:14)
4. Celebrate your students. Mexico is a place of lively celebrations, seemingly anything is an excuse to invite people over, play music, eat and dance. Whether it was someone’s birthday, a going away party, or just a Friday night, there was constant celebration. Celebrations are almost always a good time, and just remember how you felt the last time a group of people got together to celebrate your birthday or one of your accomplishments. This is easily transferable to the classroom and will reap huge dividends in the lives of the students. Celebrate with them! Celebrate birthdays, graduations, new siblings, a good test score, memorizing a Bible verse, etc. Create a culture of celebration amongst your students and I guarantee they won’t help but to feel like valued members in your classroom community.
5. Smile! I think one of the reasons that humans like dogs so much is because dogs are always happy to see you. No matter what their day was like, dogs smile, wag their tail and will take every opportunity to like your face. I’m not saying you should lick your students’ faces, but I am saying you should smile and greet them whenever you see them. It’s amazing what a little smile, a handshake or a hug, and a little excitement can do to make someone feel like they belong.
6. Serve your students. In Mexico I constantly found myself being served. Whether it was food or blankets when it was a bit chilly, the people constantly looked out for and served one another. In the classroom, it’s always a plus to remember that we are here to serve those who we’re guiding. If the Son of Man came as a servant, how can we not follow in His footsteps? We can serve our students by preparing our lessons well, spending time listening to them, encouraging them, writing notes of praise home to their parents, praying for them regularly, and even cleaning up after them to name of a few.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of how to build community, but hopefully it will at least spark interest in the importance of doing so. May God help us all, no matter where we are, to build community amongst people that they may know Him, the God of perfect community who exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and is blessed forever. Amen.