It is common to hear organizations, colleges, and churches talk about “community.” This word is meant to describe the way in which a group of people work or live together. For the most part, the word “community” is meant in a positive fashion, like “we have a wonderful community” or “we are pleased you will be joining our community.”
However if you examine the term more closely, you will find at its most basic meaning that it simply describes a group of people who share a “common characteristic.” That’s not a very compelling description, if you ask me.
Often when I interact with groups that talk about “community,” what I find is actually mistrust, lack of communication, and separate units positioning for power. Whatever implied warmth or connectedness the word “community” suggests is missing altogether and in its place a kind of jockeying for position and a bitter competition that breaks down whatever community might have been there.
I recently heard a definition of community that I really like, however, and I quickly thought of Trinity: “A group of people living and working together who practice common ownership.”
This word “ownership” is compelling to me. Owners care for one another, their purpose is unified, and they focus on each other rather than on themselves, which is perhaps the most important attribute of this definition. As Christians, we are called to imitate Christ’s humility, although this often goes against what our society is pushing us towards. We live in a culture where we must face false idols, competition, and stars that shine for a moment and then fade away.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others” (Phil 2:3-4).
Imagine how our community changes when Paul’s charge above becomes our primary goal. As Christians, we are called to imitate Christ, and if we study his words and actions in the gospels, we soon understand that one of Christ’s greatest attributes was humility. Putting others before ourselves changes our community at a fundamental level: we become advocates for each other, supporters and cheerleaders, and each of us feels the support of the others behind us.
At Trinity, this kind of imitation of Christ is at the core of our identity. Not that we do it perfectly all the time, for we are human beings struggling to imitate God. But I am so grateful for the community that is Trinity Lutheran College—students, faculty, staff, board—and the ways in which we together act as owners of our college, making Trinity the wonderful place that it is.
And as a college, we are also grateful for the many alumni, supporters and friends who join in our common goal to imitate Christ. Anyone who cares about this place and joins us in our mission becomes part of our community.
May we all continue to strive toward humility in being more like Christ—so we can “shine like stars in the sky” (Phil 2:14) as we hold firmly to God’s word and truth as it lives among us.