the weblog of Alan Knox

We want Christian community

Posted by on Jan 19, 2009 in community, fellowship, guest blogger | 11 comments

Recently, I received an email from an old friend. I once worked with him. He and his wife had some relationship problems, and they ended up getting a divorce. We’ve emailed back a forth a few times, but it was both encouraging and discouraging to get this email from him:

I’m married now and we are expecting. We are very excited about everything that has been going on lately. I even had an interview for a promotion today so we are probably moving up north even farther. Like I said we are very excited about everything that has been going on.

We have been really trying to reach out for Christian fellowship and it has not been easy. That is actually the “advice” that I was hoping to get from you. My wife and I have both been really wanting to be around other Christians who challenge and help us grow and think about our beliefs and, well, the kind of environment I used to have with you guys at work. We don’t really know how to approach this though and we have gone with the most obvious and typical approach of finding a “local church” and doing all that but it is very unsatisfying to both of us for all the obvious reasons: sermons are weak at best heretical at worst, people are fake at best and judgmental at worst (many of them know about my divorce), and the environment is awful for fellowship and extremely conducive to over-emotionalistic unimportant ego-soothing nonsense. You know, the common problems with this kind of environment. So I don’t know what to do. I have been reading books and getting back into my Greek. I have been doing everything possible to be at least intellectually stimulated but its not really doing it for me or my family for that matter. Have you got any advice on what we could do to find other believers who can challenge us and help us and who we can share and grow with. We want Christian community and have realized very clearly that it is a difficult thing to find.

What advice did I give my friend? The same advice that I usually give to people who email me:

Seriously, there is no easy answer. First, be patient and pray. Second, look for God to work through the relationships that you already have. Start by inviting people to your place or out to dinner, and see what happens.

Finally, I’ve started adding another piece of advice. I encouraged him to check out SimpleChurch.com. This is a social networking site for people who are interested in more simple expressions of the church.

What advice would you give to my friend?


11 Comments

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

  1. 1-19-2009

    Sometimes community is difficult to “find”. We may need to create it. Choose some people you know , and would like to know better. Ask several to come to your house for Saturday brunch, a late Sunday afternoon lunch, or whenever. The first time, you provide the food. Ask the group how often they would like to meet (monthly?). After the first time, you provide the main dish and everyone else brings something to share. Eat. Talk. Don’t make a Bible study out of it.

    Ask Christians you know, or neighbors or whomever. Ask as many or as few as you like. We had one of these groups that met monthly for nine years. The most important qualification is people who will commit to the group. You may want to rotate the meeting place. During the first two or three meetings, decide how large the group may become, and how new people can get into the group. Also discuss children (are they included?) and specific problems group members might have that would affect the group (allergic to certain foods or to cats, etc.)

    I would strongly suggest you make this a personal thing, and not make it a “ministry” of the church. If the group is under the church’s umbrella, you will almost certainly find them trying to control the group and make it a “mini-church” of some kind, and soon you will be back to square one – a church function that is probably lacking in community.

    If your group meets once a month, and this is not often enough for what you want, start a second group. At various times we have had two groups going – always because the first group could not handle more people, and there were additional people who really wanted to be in a group.

  2. 1-19-2009

    Unfortunately, real community is one of the biggest ‘missing pieces’ in many churches in western nations. For the past 2 years, God has really been impressing this on me as a key area that needs to be developed. We have done this through being involved/starting a house church, where community is not inhibited by the schedules and order of a ‘regular’ church service. Small groups (i.e. study groups) attached to a larger church can also work to achieve real community.

    I think Sam is spot-on. The fact is, community is lacking within the church and finding it is very difficult. So, we need to create it ourselves. Sometimes, we have to be a friend before others will be friends to us. Deep down, everyone wants real community, but I feel that not everyone expects it or searches for it. People who realise this need to stand up and do something to show others the blessings of relationships in the Lord.

  3. 1-19-2009

    Alan,

    Actually I pretty much would have done what you did… encouraged him to check out simplechurch.com. I find myself having very similar problems to this anonymous gentleman. And although I have signed up for simplechurch.com I have still found it difficult to connect with those people because they are very far from me.

    I know one blessing I have is that I am able to talk to you as frequently as I do. The internet can be very useful. :)

    Thanks for sharing this letter, I’ll be praying that this gentleman and his wife are able to find what they desire.

    God Speed,
    Lew

  4. 1-19-2009

    Check out Total Church, published by Crossway 2008. It’s about the relationship between the gospel word and the gospel community and how Christians are called to fidelity to both.

  5. 1-19-2009

    UPDATE:

    My friend took my advice and invited some friends to his house for dinner. He is already beginning to strengthen existing relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ.

    Sam,

    Yes, often those who desire comunity must take the initiative to create that community. I think this is very unfortunate when younger or less mature believers have to create community because “more mature” believers are too busy, or aren’t interested, or whatever.

    Andrew,

    I completely agree that community is missing in most church organizations! Why do you think that is?

    Lew,

    It has been a blessing to maintain my relationship with you as well! I wish we could get together in person more often – and not just when I’m in the middle of driving for 12 hours!

    Anonymous,

    I just received that book in the mail last week. I haven’t read it yet, but when I do read it, I’ll write my response here. I’m hoping for very good things!

    -Alan

  6. 1-19-2009

    Alan,

    Christian community is one of those things that seems to be very elusive.

    One of the most difficult parts about it are finding people who are willing to be real. As well as people who can think for themselves in relation to what scripture really says, as opposed to what they’ve been told.

    I would struggle with answering that question. Because, I’m still trying to find it myself.

    Blessings,
    Gary

  7. 1-19-2009

    Why is community missing in many institutional churches… good question Alan.

    These are my un-researched, bit not completely uninformed, opinions, but I will put them forward anyway.

    China is a place where the church has been growing at an extraordinary rate. This has occurred largely through decentralised house-church-type gatherings. I would suggest that these communities are very close, as they are actively persecuted and their small gatherings allow them to develop real relationships (‘communitas’). So my thought would be that persecution and challenge to our faith brings us into greater community . The Western church is perhaps too comfortable and does not ‘need’ the community (at least they don’t think they do) for these very real and imminent issues i.e. persecution.

    This is perhaps one explanation, but it is not nearly enough and too one-dimensional.

    Secondly, I have really felt to rebuke the individualism of Western culture. This is particularly evident in the United States, to a slightly lesser degree in Australia (where I’m from) and Europe is less again. Speaking generally, however, the Eastern nations are much less individualistic. Individualism and community are at odds with each other – they are mutually exclusive. Pop culture tells us to be independent and to ‘make our own way in the world’, but this is not consistent with what Jesus taught: love your neighbor i.e. community. I am proud to say that I don’t want to be an independent person. I am 26 y.o. and still live with my parents (which is not the ‘cool’ thing to do) because I haven’t found a better option yet and I refuse to live alone. I am working on setting up an ‘intentional community’ with like-minded friends – I feel that part of my calling is to encourage and establish community throughout my life.

    Sorry for the big response, but it is still some very basic thoughts that I have not really expanded upon here. Needless to say, I feel that lack of community is a very serious problem, that cannot be underplayed. Jesus told us to love our neighbor, and community is the manifestation of this commandment.

    Keep it going everyone, and thanks Alan, I really enjoy reading your posts and the comments that follow.

  8. 1-20-2009

    Gary,

    I agree. It is difficult to find people who are willing to be real, and it is difficult to be real. We want people to accept our flaws, but we often dismiss or reject people because of their flaws. People are messy… but we don’t want our community to be messy. We want community… but we don’t want to work at it or give up something ourselves in order to have community.

    Andrew,

    I agree with your thoughts here, and don’t apologize for the length. I think you’ve given us some things to think about. Plus, I know now that I have two Aussies reading my blog. :)

    -Alan

  9. 1-20-2009

    I think Andrew is spot on about Western individualism, but I would take it even further–evangelicalism stresses Salvation at the expense of the Body of Christ. People view salvation as the be all and end all of Christianity and never see fellowship and worship as crucial to their faith–hence the once a week on Sunday approach. I’ve found fellowship in small groups where you can share your faith and yourself with others and also online–like your blog!
    God bless.

  10. 1-20-2009

    Mich,

    Nice comment. I believe that salvation is personal, but its also more than personal because it involves life which include community life.

    -Alan

  11. 1-21-2009

    Alan,

    I hear what you are saying about not wanting to put up with the flaws of other. I don’t disagree at all that this can be a hindrance to community. I personally don’t have a problem with that. God knows I have enough flaws of my own.

    The biggest thing is finding Christians who take their faith seriously. You can’t deny that the U.S. full of luke warm Christianity, where scripture is regarded as an option, as opposed to a necessity.

    I definitely believe in discipling others in the Lord. But, many people have no interest in growing in maturity.

    I live in Cincinnati, Ohio, which is full of religion due to a large Roman Catholic and mainstream protestant presence. Not that all Roman Catholics and mainstream protestants are religious, but the overwhelming majority are.

    Just a different perspective that I felt a need to point out.

    Blessings,
    Gary