Defining community usually includes a list of actions. The following list represents a summary of the more common actions included:
- Shared experiences
- Sharing experiences
- Studying together
- Planning and doing together (usually a missional project).
Most experts point to transformation as the goal of these actions, explaining that spiritual transformation takes place as individuals engage with a group in these actions. Most of us can see how these actions contribute to spiritual growth in some way.
This list begs the question of the role prayer should play in building community. Granted, prayer may be assumed in the actions and if it is, then why does it get relegated to a background action?
Relationships cannot be forced. I taught a men’s class several years ago that had a class rule of no parties. When we were forming the group, the original men present made it clear that if they wanted to spend an hour or more with someone outside the group time, they would have already invited that person to lunch. In the two years I taught that class, we never had a party. But we were not disconnected from each other. Some sat by each other at sporting events, others played golf together every Friday afternoon, and others met for lunch on Tuesdays. They were not mean to each other; they just had their own subgroups that formed. Here’s the key take away; they found a way through prayer to create a larger sense of community in spite of the subgroups.
This experience makes me think that prayer might be more important when it comes to community than getting together as a group for social events. Whether we like it or not, we have subgroups within our groups now. They sit near each other every time the group meets. If we tell the group to find a partner during group time, they always seem to find a way to be together. When we have an event, they hang out with each other. We need to be comfortable with this, knowing that relationships happen and we can’t (nor should we) try to control them. What we can do is make them work for us. We can make prayer the link between the subgroups. We can also encourage these subgroups to include prayer in their nonparties. We must avoid the trap of relegating prayer to an assumed role, elevating it to an identified essential element in the building of community.
How might prayer partners impact the sense of community found in your Bible study group?