Jesus commanded His students that our love for each other should be our defining trait.33 He modeled a life of community for us; living daily in close proximity to His friends and followers. The early church imitated this communal life; as Luke says, “they devoted themselves to fellowship.”34 Our regular feasting together at the Lord’s Table is a constant reminder that our union to Christ is also a union to each other. It is a unity that we need not build or earn, as St Paul tells us, it must only be kept; we already possess it by virtue of our baptism into the family of God.35
It would be a mistake to think of suburban culture as lacking nothing. There is a form of poverty present in suburbia. The consumerism and individualism rampant within suburban culture has wrought a tremendous isolation. What Mother Teresa called, “that most terrible form of poverty: loneliness.”36 Our pursuit of the good life has us spending hours in traffic, and overcommitted to circles of relationship that rarely overlap; our work-life, home-life, church-life, play-life, and family-life are almost totally compartmentalized. It is with herculean effort that suburban Churches are able to promote any degree of community, most, however, simply do not make the effort; it is often enough the anonymity of the crowd that draws people to the successful suburban Church.
The urban neighborhood, on the other hand, has community in abundance. Most urban dwellers spend the bulk of their lives within blocks of their residence, this means a constant stream of daily encounters with neighbors. Not to imply that this community is necessarily healthy (it is often severely unhealthy); but it is hard to escape! People know each other, and know each other’s business; the neighborhood is interconnected by a constant stream of conversation.
When the Church pursues the cultural prestige, and economic prosperity of suburban missions it looses this rich opportunity to exist within a cohesive community. Too often we fall into the cultural patterns of suburban individualism. We must force church members to contradict the very impulses that informed their decision to live in the suburbs in the first place. By seeking to go with the cultural grain we are able to gain attendees, but lose out on the opportunity to obey the command of Jesus. Simply put, the communal life Jesus expects of a disciple is a much more attainable reality in the City.
To be a disciple of Christ is to live in intimate connection with other disciples. It is a travesty that discipleship could in any way be devoid of such community. And yet, so many of our ‘discipleship classes’ are means of conveying information, nothing more and nothing less. This constitutes a serious failure to disciple women and men into the full life of Jesus.