This post is part of a synchroblog around the topic of “Community”. Glenn at “re-dreaming the dream” organized this synchroblog in his post called “Community (June Synchroblog)“. Posts will be added to this synchroblog throughout this week. If you’d like to take part in this synchroblog, write your post and leave a comment with a link on Glenn’s latest synchroblog info post called “Community Synchroblog“.
Concerning this topic, Glenn made the following statements:
It seems like there have been two parallel themes on the minds of many of us latelyâ€¦ the longing for community and the fear of it turning sour.
Those themes have led to several of us thinking about how to facilitate community, helping isolated people find each other without falling into the pitfalls that have led to many of us leaving the institutional church. What are some options for getting it right and getting moving toward authentic community and meaningful service together? Can we move beyond the dreams, the fears, and the talk?
As little as 100 years ago, community was common and natural in the United States and around the world. (In many places, community remains common and natural.) People were born into a family that was part of a community, and they immediately became part of the community. People lived in the community, went to school in the community, married in the community, worked or farmed in the community, traded or bartered or shopped in the community, died in the community. The people knew who was part of the community because they lived with one another. Beyond knowing who was part of the community, the people actually knew one another because they lived together, learned together, laughed together, cried together. It was possible for someone to leave the community, but the community and the individual immediately felt the loss. It was also possible from someone to be banned from or shunned by the community, but still the community and the individual immediately felt the loss.
Today, community is foreign, strange, and peculiar (at least in the United States). We live in one neighborhood. We go to school in another neighborhood. We work in still another neighborhood. We shop in a fourth neighborhood. We do not know what it means to be community because we do not know what it means to share our lives – all aspects of our lives – with a particular group of people. We are no longer born into a community, and we no longer die in that same community. People come and go in our neighborhoods, our schools, our jobs, our stores, and within weeks we hardly remember their names (if we ever knew their names in the first place).
We recognize that we no longer live in community, and we recognize that in Scripture the church appears to be a community – an extended family of sorts that shares their lives with one another. We recognize that something is missing in our lives because we do not live in community with other believers. So, what do we do? We attempt to create community.
We bring together people from different neighborhoods, who work in different parts of the cities, whose children go to different schools, who have different hobbies and interests, who are at different stages in their lives, who struggle with different sins and seek God in different ways, and we put them together in a room for one or two hours on Sunday with a group of strangers (or acquaintances at best) and tell them that they are a community. And, then we wonder why they do not act like community toward one another.
Can these people be community? Yes. But, they do not become community by meeting together once a week. Community develops as people share their lives with one another… minute by minute… day by day… week by week… year by year. Community develops when they learn that the other people will be there during struggles as well as during happy times. Community develops when they are accepted in spite of their differences and disagreements. Community develops when they are treated with love and respect regardless of their abilities, gifts, positions, finances, etc. Community develops when hierarchy and authority are replaced with mutual concern and service.
When people are accepted as they are – as brothers and sisters in Christ – for days, weeks, and years at a time, then community develops. When people step out of their own self-dependence and are willing to give up their plans and change their schedules for someone else, then community develops. When people begin to see the importance of the informal and the spontaneous and the unplanned meetings with one another, then community begins to develop.
So, what can we do to help develop community? First, don’t look beyond the relationships that God has already placed in your lives. God has surrounded you with people. Love, accept, encourage them and spend time with them. Invite them to your house. Invite them to go to the park or lake with you. Go with them when they invite you. Recognize that community is developed in the “small” and everyday issues of life, not in formal and special issues.
Second, be vulnerable; allow yourself to be disappointed; allow others to fail. People are not perfect and they will disappoint us. But, community cannot be develop in an artificially perfect atmosphere. If things are going smooth all the time, then you know that you are not living together as community. Someone has to take the initiative and allow themselves to be vulnerable and transparent, which of course opens us up to the possibility of being hurt. In fact, when you are truly yourself with people – authentic – they may reject you. This is not a cause of alarm – it is natural. Instead, we continue looking for relationships with people that God has placed in our lives. We continue trusting God and seeking our satisfaction and our hope and our primary relationship in him and him alone. We trust him to build community.
Third, thank God and encourage people for those small steps toward community. If someone is willing to share a part of their life – even a small part – thank God, thank them, and encourage them for what they have shared. Being open and honest and allowing someone to be part of your life is not a natural thing – it is a supernatural act of the Holy Spirit. We should never lose our awe and wonder at the great mystery God works in the lives of other people.
Finally, be patient. Community takes time to develop. People today do not know what it means to live in community with one another. They need months and years of example. Many taking part in this synchroblog and reading this post are among those who desire community and have tested the waters only to find themselves nearly drowned by the deluge. Be patient. Forgive people. Allow people to move on. Accept others that seem strange to you. Be amazed at what God does… but allow him time to work. Just as he had to work in my life and in your life, we must allow him to work in the lives of others as well.
Community… everyone wants it, but few are willing to put in the work necessary to develop it. Everyone wants it now, but few are willing to wait for it. Everyone wants it for themselves, but few are willing to give up their own plans and schedules to be community for others. Community is unnatural today because so many people live independent – self-dependent – lives.
After living together with some people for over five years, we are finally beginning to understand what it means to be a community. And, even our understanding is faulty and shallow. However, I am exciting and overwhelmed by what God has done and is doing in my life, in our family’s lives, and in the lives of some of those around us. Community is worth all of the pain, frustration, fears, and failed attempts. We are finally learning to accept one another as we are in Christ, and expect God to continue to work in and through each of our lives.
Read the following posts in this synchroblog to see what other people are saying about “Community” this week. I’ll add links as more posts are published throughout the week:
“Community: The Dilemma” by Glenn
“Community: A Synchroblog” by Jason
“Thoughts on Building Authentic Christian Community” by Jeff
“Community is unnatural today” by Alan
“When ‘community’ hinders community” by Alan
“Why we don’t like grace” by Jonathan
“Equality is an action word” by Kathy
“Authentic Community, Meaningful Ministry – Moving Forward” by Gary