Spiritual Practice

Life Together

Sarah Arthur

German tank2 TSP 100508617 copyIn the heart of Nazi Germany was a secret group—not a political rebellion attempting to overthrow Hitler or a smuggling operation to help Jews, but a group of Christians who started a seminary to train pastors who refused to serve the state church. The pastors-in-training lived in one household, sharing meals and chores, joining together for daily prayer and worship. Communal living is stressful on a good day. Imagine it under the constant threat of exposure to the Secret Service.

One of the group’s leaders was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a theologian who returned from safety in the United States to run this underground group. Recognizing how difficult community life could be, he wrote a guide now known as Life Together. In it, Bonhoeffer insisted that authentic community is not about friends with similar tastes hanging out together. It’s about the Holy Spirit, drawing together people who otherwise have nothing in common—people who are black, white, young, old, rich, poor, healthy, medicated, hip, nerdy. Authentic community is only possible through Jesus.

Ideal versus Real

When we were seminary students, my husband and I lived with other families in an intentional Christian community in the inner city. For three years, we practiced simplicity and sustainability, shared daily meals and prayer, and offered our extra rooms to the homeless. Did I mention that communal living is stressful?

Sometimes, I didn’t like my housemates. Sometimes, they didn’t like me. Chores were a battleground. Trying to coordinate everyone’s schedules so that we could pray together was difficult. We could have decided that we didn’t have enough in common to make the community work.

Cover LT 919yabQY9KLBut reading and discussing Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, we realized that neither creed, cause, nor natural connection had brought us together. The Holy Spirit made a stronger bond than our human community could achieve on its own. We saw one another with different eyes because we saw one another as Jesus saw us. Second Corinthians 5:16–17 (NRSV) says, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” We saw one another as uniquely flawed, uniquely gifted, and worth the hardship.

Community on the Ground

You may have an ideal community in mind: the perfect garage band, the perfect dorm situation, the perfect family. But you can’t manufacture authentic community without the One who heals you and allows you to see one another as God sees you. If you’re seeking community for the sake of community, you will be disappointed. If you’re humbly seeking to do God’s will with others on the same journey, you will find authentic community with people you never expected.

Eventually, Bonhoeffer’s secret seminary was discovered. Bonhoeffer was arrested, imprisoned, and executed. But the pastors he trained continued to serve churches and to gather together whenever they could. They knew that authentic community is worth living and dying for.



Make a list of all the different communities you are part of (family, church, youth group, neighborhood, sports, band, drama). This week, instead of being critical, ask God to help you see each person in each group through the eyes of Jesus.

Sarah Arthur is a long-time youth worker and the author of nine books, including The One Year Coffee with God, which includes stories from her experience living in a Christian community. (

—from devozine (March/April 2015). Copyright © 2015 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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