the weblog of Alan Knox

Community is unnatural today

Posted by on Jun 2, 2008 in community, synchroblog | 19 comments

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 lately… 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.

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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


19 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 6-2-2008

    Good post Alan. Check out the movie “The Terminal” as it illustrates this very well.

    Also check out the series I am doing on “Metrospirituality” where I conclude The problem though is that Bob and Mary’s spiritual life is more like Mailer’s prototypical homosexual, “narcissists who occasionally bump into one another.”

  2. 6-2-2008

    Alan:

    Thank-you so much for the post and the words. I really am not even sure where to comment ot to react.

    Thus, I am going to move away from my desk, lay on the couch and ponder the words.

    Most of us, truly are so disconnected and community is foreign to us.

  3. 6-2-2008

    Alan ~

    You are so right, community used to be a part of normal life, but in today’s disjointed culture, it is rare. You did a good job of exposing the weaknesses in the average church’s attempts at community. Community develops when we share life together and as we recognize the spontaneous ways in which it happens. Your four points about developing community… right on, like the whole post. Thanks, Alan!

  4. 6-2-2008

    Alan,

    It seems such a long time ago now, but in my childhood, community was as natural as breathing. Even non-Christians were a vibrant part of that genuine community experience.

    A common reality of that living, breathing community was that, even the unbelievers had a concept of righteousness, by which they lived as families, and functioned in the workplace. That gave ALL members of society a common ground on which they stood.

    But there was also another common factor at work which helped the society to cohere into real community; everyone, without exception was in a common struggle to, firstly endure, and secondly, recover from the 2nd World War. The only ones who weren’t part of that were the extreme hyper-
    fundamentalists of both Christian groups, as well as the cults.

    Much the same happened during and after the 1914-18 War, which was well before my time.

    I think that this can give us a clue why, what we, very casually call “Christianity”, simply doesn’t have anything which creates that cohesion.

    The “Christianity” of today with its consistent navel-gazing attitude, cannot see that it is neither cold nor hot (it has no effect on the wider community), it thinks it is rich, and has become wealthy, and has need of nothing, and does not know that it is wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.

    Like the society around us, “Christianity” has become self- satisfied and very comfortable. We have so much which holds our attention, entertainment, sport, fund-raising, endless hours of meetings designed to keep control of congregations, committee after committee, and conventions, ad nauseam.

    Even worse, most Christians don’t have a clue how to think through what they are told from the pulpit is Bible truth, or the way to live and function; they are simply too busy being busy, doing what they have been told is the “Christian thing”. The old adage has been corrupted to “The preacher says it,so,I believe it! That’s good enough for me!” And that’s only the beginning!

    I better stop! It’s your fault, Alan :)

  5. 6-2-2008

    Well said Aussie John!! I’m very glad you said it.

    I have nothing to add to that.

    Gary

  6. 6-2-2008

    J.R.,

    The like the movie The Terminal. I have never thought of that movie in terms of community, but I can understand what you’re talking about. Thanks for the links to your articles on Metrospirituality as well. Good reads!

    Jeff,

    I’d love to hear your thoughts once your think about it more.

    Glenn,

    Thanks for the kind words. I was planning to write this as foundational article, and perhaps write another article or two for the week-long synchroblog based on this one.

    Aussie John,

    Yes, you’re absolutely right. Its interesting that the community that you grew up in was built on a common struggle. Our community should be based on a common person – Jesus Christ. But, we can’t even unite on him, so we usually try to unity on human leaders, doctrinal statements, or even what we’re against. The only real community for Christ-followers is that community founded on Jesus Christ himself.

    Gary,

    Aussie John is great, isn’t he?! I’m trying to talk him into moving to the U.S. :)

    -Alan

  7. 6-3-2008

    Alan,

    Aussie John is not great! He is a blessed and privileged sinner, who, by God’s great mercy and grace, has had his sin dealt with by the life and bloody death of God’s precious Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. As a consequence he is a family member of God’s assembly which, he perceives, has been prevented from functioning in spiritual freedom by religious systems.

  8. 6-3-2008

    I dunno…I do the math this way:

    Jesus is great.
    The life that Aussie John now lives is not his, but Jesus who lives through him.
    We see Jesus in Aussie John.
    Therefore, Aussie John is great.

    A=B, B=C, C=D, therefore A=D

    Come to the US, Aussie John!! :)

  9. 6-3-2008

    Alan,
    I loved this post. Very articulate and thoughtful, and echoes many of the things I’ve felt inside. Thanks.

    Since I do not know Aussie John, I have no opinion for or against his greatness. :)

  10. 6-3-2008

    Aussie John,

    Thank you for your humility. I expected nothing less from you. As Steve explains below, I’m simply noticing the greatness of Jesus Christ in you. All praise and honor go to Him!

    Steve,

    I like your math.

    Jeff,

    I noticed that our posts echoed some of the same themes. I appreciate that you added thoughts about forms and leadership in your post.

    Also, you should get to know Aussie John. :)

    -Alan

  11. 6-4-2008

    alan, i really like your thoughts here in all kinds of ways. because these days it is more unnatural like you said, i do think it takes a bit of intention, even if it is just “let’s eat together on a regular basis some how some way”. the biggest thing that strikes me is how much time it really takes to develop true community. i think the reasonmost people give up early, they get bugged, it’s inconvenient, they’re too busy, whatever, to commit to relationship with some people and then never get to experience the benefit. your involvement with some people for 5 long years says a lot…and as you said, though, still, there’s so much more to be developed over much more time in those relationships. i really do think community is all about the long haul. thanks for sharing….

  12. 6-4-2008

    Kathy,

    Yes, we do have to intentionally care for people – demonstrate love for them – because it doesn’t come natural to us. Like you said in your post, see one another as equals is a huge step toward love one another and living as community.

    -Alan

  13. 6-6-2008

    Alan, you said, “
    Community… everyone wants it, but few are willing to put in the work necessary to develop it.”

    So true.

  14. 5-17-2012

    This actually made me want to cry….it is so what I have been longing for. When I tried to create it, it was crushed. Now I am isolated and have no one in my life to fulfill it. I only have online relationships now. That falls short of community, don’t you think? I honestly don’t know where to find this community.

  15. 5-17-2012

    Sheree,

    I always suggest that people pray and look for people who God brings into your life. You may have to ease them into community at the beginning, because it is not natural for people.

    -Alan

  16. 12-13-2012

    There are hundreds of small communities throughout America where “everybody knows each other” and thus true biblical community may be more feasible in those areas where culture has already had an established pattern of close community…in some cases for over a century! Sparta, TN is one of those examples. It takes years to get integrated in if you haven’t grown up there. You’re an outsider. But once you’re in the circle of trust of everyone knowing you, it’s much better. Now just imagine if every Church in America would start viewing themselves as the Church in ________ (i.e. The Church in Ephesus, the Church in Colossae, etc.), instead of having all of these divisions. Either way, the Church in the West has a lot of work to do in breaking idols of individualism and divisive dogma. We could learn a lot from our Eastern friends in China and India, to name a couple.

  17. 12-13-2012

    Jim,

    One of the things that several people have commented about our community is that while we are very close and we all know each other, we also include new people easily. They usually find it to be a strange combination.

    -Alan

  18. 12-19-2012

    Jim,
    Thanks for this article to encourage us to keep seeking the Lord as we long for community. As Psalm 133 points out, living together in unity is a blessing that goes far beyond what we deserve! Oil was not normally poured on someone so that it flows down over all their garments–that is extravagant blessing! It is like the dew of Hermon falling on Zion–this does not actually happen in the natural because Mt. Hermon is WAY too far from Jerusalem, which is why the Mt. Hermon area is known for wonderful produce, but the Jerusalem is quite dry. The dew from Mt. Hermon falling on Jerusalem would be a supernatural event and that is just the point! Lord, help us to pray for the miracle of community just as fervantly as we pray for Your intervention in the lives of the lost and for health concerns. Your people united in love is a miracle the world longs to see!

  19. 12-20-2012

    Jason,

    I love your phrase “the miracle of community.” Community in Christ is truly a miracle.

    -Alan