The Compassion of Community

An incoming freshman texted me at 11pm, which is approximately thirty minutes past my bedtime, and said she needed help. I immediately met her. She just got hit with the news that her mom was diagnosed with cancer for the second time. Her eyes filled with emotional tears, her breathing labored as she tried to speak through the sobs, and her shoulders slumped and shook with despair. I hardly knew this girl, but her grief drew out my compassion. Just as I felt my own eyes well up, my best friend and roommate walked into the room laughing. She had received a funny text and looked up to share the joke when she saw our current state. Immediately, she rushed to us and offered warmth and sympathy. She didn’t even ask this girl’s name but jumped in the mess to provide comfort.

When the young girl left and my roommate asked more about her, we both recognized the beauty in the pain. We didn’t have to know one another to share her mourning. It was a domino effect that happened both quickly and very naturally. If discipleship should look anything like the ministry of Jesus, then what we had just experienced was a very real representation. It reminded me that witness, compassion, and community are essential to a lifestyle of discipleship.

John 11:34-36

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

This excerpt is from the story of the relationship between Jesus, Lazarus, Mary and Martha. The series of compassion is unavoidable. However, earlier in this chapter Jesus is first told the news about Lazarus, and he responds confidently and unafraid of the consequences. Jesus is God, and his authority is duly noted in his initial words.

“This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

He doesn’t seem overly concerned for the emotional health of his friends, but simply declares that this tragedy will lead to his ultimate glory. Some may even say that he seemed to lack sensitivity towards the situation. However, just a few lines down, we see Jesus weeping over the friendship lost. How could a few lines cultivate such a change in response?

Clearly, he walked into an atmosphere that was emotionally intense. The text says that the anguish he witnessed in Mary and Martha moved his spirit and he was greatly troubled. His compassion was so deep that it caused uncontrollable sadness, and he wept. He cried so much that the people who had been ridiculing him a few verses before, turned and said “See how he loved him!” He didn’t hide his pain, and he didn’t declare his omniscience. He shared in mourning, he sowed tears, and he discipled those around him by doing so. He also validated their grief even though he knew Lazarus would be resurrected. The significance of identifying and sharing in pain was more than a teaching moment.

Discipleship in Community

This sliver of Jesus ministry helps illustrate something we don’t often give much opportunity—discipleship in community. Intentional discipleship is often secluded from community and has instead been left for meaningful talks in coffee shops or church on Sunday morning. This limitation is a disservice to all of us but also our community. Jesus went to Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. He entered into their lives and loved deeply as he ministered to them. Lazarus and Jesus were known as close friends, but Mary and Martha were there too. Jesus didn’t choose to isolate his relationship with Lazarus but brought his ministry into the community. Even deeper, the surrounding community received the benefit of their discipleship when they grieved the loss of Lazarus. Jesus knew that the community would reap great wisdom, even if it wasn’t exclusively sown into them.

Ironically, I can think of another story where community overlapped discipleship in my life. It was before an evening event, and the girl I disciple was expressing heartbreak over a boy. Her words, her insecurity, and her confusion were all so familiar. I wrestled similarly when I was in high school and couldn’t find freedom from the incessant self-doubt.

In the moment, I didn’t have any wisdom to offer, so I just sat and listened. My boyfriend called me and asked if I was ready to go and, on a time crunch, I said yes but asked for him to come in to get me. When he arrived he apologized for intruding and turned to leave, but I asked for him to come and sit. I encouraged her to share her heart with him, and I watched the conversation unfold. As she divulged self-doubt, insecurity, and rejection, I watched him fight for her in protection. I heard him express compassion and regard for her heart ache. It was the first time she ever had her value and self worth validated by a man. He didn’t gain by entering into her story, but she’ll forever remember the Truth he spoke. His vantage point was what she needed. He did what I couldn’t do because I invited him in. The grace of God is so often found in community. The body of Christ works together, fulfilling different roles and strengths at different times in the one true story.

Evidences of Community

John 11 shares numerous evidences of love shared in community. For example, Jesus left his plans to comfort his friends, Mary and Martha led Jesus in compassion, Jesus wept over Lazarus, the community around them witnessed, and Lazarus was resurrected. The story is an unexpected account of a raw ministry. They mourned together because they loved together.

Real life ministry is not taking every moment to teach, it’s not using every silence to impart wisdom, and it’s certainly not isolating from the pain. The ministry that Jesus gives is his presence—that’s the strongest witness of discipleship in community. The ability to step back and just be with people.

My challenge for you is to do this yourself. Invite people into the unknown and risky places of your heart, and don’t be afraid to step into someone else's. Don’t fear the complex boundaries of community just let your presence witness.

Chelsea Vaughn (@chelsea725has served a ministry she helped start in the DFW Metroplex since she graduated from college. She received her undergraduate degree at Dallas Baptist University in Communication Theory. She does freelance writing, editing, and speaking for various organizations and non-profits. She hopes to spend her life using her gift for communication to reach culture and communities with the love of Jesus.