“Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:2b)
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (John 15:4)
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)
It has been said that God did not design marriage primarily for our happiness, but for our holiness. In other words, although there is wonder and joy to be found in marriage, God designed it in a way that demands growth. To be daily confronted with someone so vastly different from you should spur your growth. It should speed your sanctification.
The same could be said, I think, for the church communities he calls us to. There is something wonderful and happy about gathering with the saints. But there is mostly sanctification, which leads to great joy. The Father does not call us to endlessly search for a group that meshes with our perceived needs. No. He instead asks us to commit to an imperfect body of believers we can grow with. As we abide in Him, as we love one another, He does his perfect work in us.
Frankly, this work is not glamorous. In fact, in the John 15 analogy, Jesus called it pruning. There is a cutting back that leads to greater life and fruit. I believe this often happens as we gather together. When we commit to people with different backgrounds, priorities, and maturity levels, we are confronted with God's pruning shears. As we abide — remain, stay, find a home in — God’s beautiful work is accomplished in us.
I have often found that it was in communities I was most comfortable in that I grew the least. Conversely, to be honest, committed, listening, and caring can be uncomfortable yet fruitful. God might call us to discomfort to prune something from us only He can see. An attitude, a prejudice, an overemphasis on the self; all of these might be pruned by the Father while in community.
Keep this in mind this coming Life Group season (or whatever small group you find yourself in). It is there many of us will find a harmony between fruit and pruning, laughter and sorrow, joy and pain. Remember, though, the work of the Father. He may be working in you, not others, as you engage in your imperfect community. In other words, He might use the group to prune you. Rejoice, for that is where the stronger fruit comes from.