Over the course of the last few weeks we have been diving into the book of Nehemiah on Sunday mornings, gleaning from Nehemiah’s account of rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem and renewing the people. While many point out the leadership accomplishments of Nehemiah, which are obvious throughout, it must not be forgotten that he accomplished the desire that God had placed within his heart in and through a community. Nehemiah would never have accomplished what God put in his heart if it were not for the power of God and the power of God working through community. When it comes to us believers, even us humans, understanding community, we must understand that we were created in and for community. God is a God who exists in community—the community of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And when he created us, he created us in his image. After having created man, he quickly turned and said that it was not good for man to be along. Thus, we were created in and for community.
Community is vitally important and essential. True, authentic, deep, holistic, and biblical community is a group of people who belong, believe, and become with one another. This was the community that Nehemiah formed around him to accomplish the rebuilding of the wall and to see the renewal of the people. As a Lead Pastor, I desire to lead our faith community to become this type of community; a community that belong, believes, and becomes with one another, which ultimately forms what I call a “Breakout Community”—a community that together moves towards a new level. I would argue that individual breakouts (a movement to a new level; or simply growth) happens within breakout communities.
– Breakout Businesspeople like the late Steve Jobs Apple, Bill Gates, and Donald Trump are individuals who broke out because of a community—a group of people around them.
– Breakout Athletes like Lebron James, Peyton Manning, and Tiger Woods are part of a community that adds value to them.
– Breakout Weight Losers usually are part of a community, whether that community comes by the way of books, trainers, gyms, clubs (Weight Watchers), or programs (P90x).
– Breakout Politicians happen to be connected to communities whether they are the communities of the Democratic or Republican Party, or the overall American community.
– Breakout Addicts usually break their addictions in communities such as AA, celebrate recovery, or transitional houses.
– Breakout Careers usually take place as a result of connecting or embedding themselves in community whether it be in training, school, teachers, mentors, or networks.
– Breakout Marriages (Books, counselors, church)
You will be hard pressed to find, although not impossible, breakout people not connected to or embedded within a breakout community.
Therefore, I believe it is vital that we as a church, and as churches, be the Breakout Community God desires us to be, in order that individuals who are in need of breaking out (breaking towards the goal of becoming conformed into the image of Jesus) can connect and embed themselves within us. Given that it is important for us to be a Breakout Community, what does being a Breakout Community look like? I believe Nehemiah provides a great portrait outlining the characteristics and qualities of a Breakout Community. Here they are:
They are unified around a central goal. The people of God in the book of Nehemiah exemplify what it means to be unified around a central goal. They were centered around building the wall and renewing their city and their lives for the glory of God’s great name. This purpose and mission rallied them together and kept them together to accomplish something great. If our church will become the breakout community that God desires it to be, then we must unify around the glory and mission of God—to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ starting where we are and moving to the uttermost parts of the world. If we have individuals bring their own agenda, preferences, purposes, and missions to the table, rest assured we will be a breakdown community rather than a breakout one.
They have leaders who set the tone. Next, the people of God had leaders that set the tone. In other words they set the example for the rest of the community to follow. Nehemiah is an obvious leader who set the pace and tone for the community. However, in verse 1 of chapter 3 we read how the high priest, Eliashib, begun work on the wall—along with his brothers. Many have heard the phrase, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” It seems that the Bible confirms the validity of this statement. If I had time I would show the running biblical theme of the necessity of strong, godly, consistent leaders who lead God’s people. If you don’t’ believe me just read Genesis 3 as well as the entire Kings narrative. Therefore, breakout communities are in need of strong, godly, consistent, hard-working, sacrificial, pace-setting leaders who have met with (and who continue to meet) with God, and who have a passion to serve King Jesus and his mission in the world.
They value individuals and their roles in the community. Interestingly, Chapter 3 of Nehemiah outlines a laundry list of names (ones that I have a very difficult time pronouncing) who worked on the wall. One of the explanations that some scholars give to this list, is the value that Nehemiah places upon individuals in the community. Taken into account that Jesus expresses that he knows the number of hairs on our heads and that people are more valuable than sparrows (Matt 10:30-31), and that the apostle Paul explains the importance of the “many members of one body” concept (1 Cor 12), one can only conclude that individuals matter to God. Within a breakout community individuals will possess great value. In fact, it will be in breakout communities that individuals will find their greatest value.
They are diverse, or heterogeneous. As one reads through the list of the various people that worked on the wall, they will find different people groups, various occupations, both genders, and people from different socio-economic spheres. In other words, people from all facets and walks of life worked on the wall. The truth is, diversity enhances the community’s ability to breakout. Therefore, there is great value in diversity. Think about it, diversity brings together people with a broad range of experience and expertise, which adds depth to the community. In addition, diversity around a centralized goal or purpose exposes the greatness and potency of the goal. In other words, the greater the diversity around a centralized goal, the greater and more powerful the goal, idea, or mission is. And finally, having great diversity teaches the community to be gracious, redemptive, merciful, and loving. When people from all walks and facets of life come together for something greater and bigger than themselves it speaks volumes to the community. Why you ask? In honesty, we have the tendency to group together with people like us—people who look like us, talk like us, etc. But in a breakout community, people from various backgrounds, ethnicities, socio-economic statuses, and occupations come together learning to extend love, forgiveness, grace, and mercy to one another as they strive towards the greater vision.
They experience the messiness of community. Creating a community, especially a breakout community, can be very messy. Nehemiah experienced his fair share of messiness. First, he had the opposers—people who did not want him, nor the group to succeed in building the wall. Nehemiah’s opposition came multiple times. They were as relentless as my five year old daughter. Facing opposition and obstacles in the community can get messy, for there will always be forces that oppose who we are, what we stand for, and what we are striving to accomplish. Second, Nehemiah had those who should have been part of the community, but in the end rejected him and the community. Verse 5 states, “their nobles would not stoop to serve their lord.” Some will think they are too good for, or better than, the community. Some will not like what the community is asking from them. Or perhaps, they simply reject the leader for some reason. In any case, what usually happens when people who should be part of the community reject the community, they leave in a way that attempts to stifle, hurt, and disrupt the community. In other words, they attempt to draw attention away from the community and its purpose and mission and center it around themselves—drawing attention to who they are and how better they are than others. Last, community can be messy in that there will be times where we will have to be corrected and times where we have to show love and extend forgiveness. Parts of the book of Nehemiah consists of the renewal of the people of God and how they are to behave as the people of God. Nehemiah leads the charge to get the community, as well as the individual behaviors in order. When this happened, people had to submit and surrender to godly discipline and correction, and other people had to extend godly love and forgiveness. I don’t know about you, being corrected and extending love and grace to someone who wronged you is messy. Just think: when you have a holy, perfect, and loving God flowing through and towards imperfect people, life will be messy—community will be messy. But, it will be a beautiful mess.
They leverage one another to accomplish more together. Reading through the laundry list of people working on the wall, one will find these phrases over and over, “next to him…next to him…next to him…; after him…after him…after him….” As individuals we can accomplish a lot—some more than others. However, together we can accomplish way more. We have all heard it said, “Two are better than one.” When it comes to being a breakout community we pick up where the other one leaves off. Together we leverage each other to accomplish something greater than we could accomplish on our own. The truth is, God uses his community to help shape and mold us into the person he wants us to be. Therefore, we need people “next to us,” and “after us” in our marriages, finances, attitudes, behaviors, evangelism, service, decisions, etc.
They are sacrificial. Being part of a breakout community is no walk in the park. There is great sacrifice individuals have to make to be a breakout community that belongs, believes, and becomes with each other. In Nehemiah, people left their homes, took off from work, and did strenuous labor—some of which probably was not their area of expertise. In other words, they gave up their time, talents, and treasure to serve alongside one another. I understand that we live in a culture that moves at a face pace. We are all busy running here, running there, going here, and then going there; taking the kids here and then there. We have this on our calendar, that on our calendar—not to mention the time spent in our occupation. I get it, many of us think we are too busy to belong, believe, and become in a community. The truth is that we will make time for the thing(s) that are important to us. I would argue that true, authentic, deep, holistic, and biblical community is something that you need and would be extremely valuable to you as an individual. Therefore, to make it a priority and to carve out time for community will [for many] be a great sacrifice. In the end, I believe the sacrifice will pay off. Just look at what Nehemiah and his community accomplished together.
They experience radical victories together. Together they accomplish a radical feat; they rebuilt a wall that had laid in ruin for over 140 years in 52 days. In addition, they experienced a radical revival as they came together to hear the word of God and seek the face of God. A lot transpired in a short amount of time. It would not have been possible outside of the community. I would argue that breakout individuals embed themselves in breakout communities, which in return produces and multiplies breakout individuals. To state it another way, the process of breakout/discipleship (being conformed into the image of Jesus and living on mission for him) happens within discipling communities, which in return produce and multiplies disciples, or breakout individuals.
My prayer is that Western Oaks, as well as all our churches, would be the breakout community/communities God desires us to be, in that we become the community that produces and multiplies breakout individuals—individuals that come to know Jesus, are conformed into his image, who participate in his global mission, all the while embedded and connected to the community of God.