ministry

Why Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ‘Life Together’ Still Matters

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More than 70 years ago, Deitrich Bonhoeffer was killed in a Nazi concentration camp. Bonhoeffer is famous for many things, but Life Together, his classic work on Christian community, is one of the most life-changing books I’ve read.

In some ways, Life Together is perhaps more relevant today than when Bonhoeffer wrote it.

Summary of Life Together

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together is a brief but rich treatise on Christian community. In it Bonhoeffer gives you practical suggestions for how you to live in Christian community with others.

To achieve this goal, he defines community. The subsequent two chapters describe a typical day both in community with others and in solitude. He then explains how you can practically minister to your brethren, and he concludes Life Together with the importance of confession and communion.

Despite its warts and imperfections, Christian community is a beautiful gift of God’s grace.

4 Challenges from Life Together

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together is short, but its brevity does not diminish its richness. The book raises these four challenges that still resonate today.

1. You need both individual and communal spiritual growth.

In chapters two and three of Life Together, Bonhoeffer presents a sample regimen for a day spent in community with other believers or a day spent in solitude, and he also includes practical spiritual practices that can edify you in both scenarios.

Community and solitude are both important for the Christian life because communal fellowship “will be unfruitful without the day alone.” In an age in which we focus so much on our individual spiritual growth, Bonhoeffer’s message challenges us to remember that spiritual growth within the community of God’s people is just as important.

2. Serving others is a form of ministry.

When you hear the word ministry, you may think of pastors, institutions and church leaders. Yet for Bonhoeffer, ministry is primarily about helping others, in unglamorous ways, through “holding one’s tongue,” meekness, listening, helpfulness, suffering alongside a brother and speaking difficult words to another. Bonhoeffer even tempers his discussion of church authority by emphasizing that it is less about personality than about faithfulness.

Bonhoeffer’s words remind us that we should view ministry less as a public role of leadership or spiritual stature — but more as a humble means to serve others in unspectacular ways. If you serve others, you are engaging in ministry — whether you have a title or not.

3. Be thankful for living in Christian community.

From the first pages of Life Together, Bonhoeffer bluntly states that “it is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians.” After all, many believers must live in isolation — as Bonhoeffer would experience first hand years later.

Yet too often we do take the church for granted. We are tempted to speak of the church with pessimism, disgust and dissatisfaction. We get fed up with the church’s hypocrisy, legalism and judgment. And while we may have legitimate critiques, Bonhoeffer pointedly reminds us that the ability to live in Christian community should not be taken for granted.

Despite its warts and imperfections, Christian community is a beautiful gift of God’s grace. It should be a joy and cause for celebration.

Even work is a cause for “praying without ceasing.”

4. Integrate your faith into your everyday life.

The lifestyle Dietrich Bonhoeffer promotes is completely centered on faith in Christ. Christ is your first thought in the morning and the last thought at night. Devotions and times of prayer fill your day. Even work is a cause for “praying without ceasing.”

This Christ-centered lifestyle is completely different than what most us are used to. At best, we tend to relegate faith to a brief morning devotion and occasional prayer before a meal. Bonhoeffer challenges us to reconsider our life priorities and to center his life on the most important thing — Christ.

Conclusion

More than 70 years after Bonhoeffer’s death, much has changed. Yet Life Together is perhaps more relevant today than when Bonhoeffer wrote it. Our culture values individualism above all else, and our churches preach individual salvation to the neglect of mentioning the community into which we are saved. Life Together reminds us that the Christian life is not just about me and God. It’s about true community with other believers.

Source: Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Life Together. Translated by John W. Doberstein. San Francisco: New York, 1954.

A version of this article originally published at Nathaniel’s blog.

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Nathaniel Williams

Editor and Content Manager for the CFC

Nathaniel Williams (M.Div, Southeastern Seminary) oversees the website, podcast and social media for the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture, and he serves as the pastor of Cedar Rock First Baptist Church. His work has appeared at Christianity Today, The Gospel Coalition, Fathom Mag, the ERLC and BRNow.org. He and his family live in rural North Carolina.

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