Categotry Archives: community

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Creating Community, or Finding It (part 3: Our Journey)

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Categories: changing mindsets, church, community, food for thought

So read parts one and two to catch up…

With my changing views on community, I think what I’m about to share here is the most significant factor–because it really demonstrates what can happen when we let community happen instead of make it happen. (And this is just what our journey looks like–not an inference as to what yours should look like.)

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Creating Community, or Finding It (part 2: Community Happens)

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Categories: community, food for thought, Meanderings (look it up)

In part 1, I started a stream of thought about my changing picture of community, how it used to be so tied to the institutional structures (which are essentially created communities), and how I’m seeing it as more of an organic, naturally occuring thing. I talked about the feeling of alone-ness that so often happens to…oh, heck, just go read it. Sheesh, I’m sitting here writing the dang thing all over again… 😀

So for us believers who have found ourselves outside the walls, if the solution for our alone-ness is not (necessarily) to create new communities with others who share our experience, how can we re-think it? We know it’s important, we see it as a need; what, if anything, do we do about it?

Maybe nothing. Maybe if community is a natural thing, it will present itself eventually.

What was the problem with created communities, again? Are they all bad? Are they all fake? No, not necessarily. I have at times found a great sense of belonging well within the parameters of a created community. No, more than anything, I think the issue with created communities is that they are, um…created. Not necessarily by God, but by man. When we form a church community, even in the name of God or under the sense of a “calling”–it’s still something we have our hands in, and thus it’s something we feel compelled to protect. We have a vested interest in whether that thing succeeds, and so–especially for leaders, and even without meaning to–we lay a burden of pressure on the people in attendance to help us keep it going. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes very blatant, but it’s there. And what that does is turn community from a natural function of believers into a duty we perform. We become obligated to the “community”, when actually it’s the entity we are trying to sustain, not actual community.

My point is–true community happens, if we let it. When “community” is thrust upon us, it doesn’t go so well.

To illustrate…a few times in my experience, when I entered into a situation where I was going to work alongside someone in ministry service, I’ve been pressured, even “required”, to meet with that person in order to “build relationship.” I don’t mean strategy or planning meetings; I mean getting together to chat. It was like we had to become friends in order to work together, and there was this pressure to make the friendship happen, to force compatibility. Every time that’s happened to me, I’ve gone along with it up to a point; but I can tell you that I have never had a meaningful relationship or sense of community with anyone in my life when it was simply demanded of me, in ministry or otherwise. In fact, while I “got along” okay with those people, I always have found others on the team with whom I formed a more meaningful bond, on my own, without pressure. When the pressure is off, when I’m free to form my personal relationships apart from my working relationships (i.e., when I’m allowed to choose my friends)…true community happens. The other stuff, the forced stuff? Just politics. Does anyone relate?

I think in a sense, the same dynamic is true with community among groups. I keep using the phrase “created communities”, but actually that’s a bit of a misnomer. I can’t create community anymore than I can create a tree, or another human being. All I can hope for, really, is to participate in the process. 🙂 Communities, like people, are born. We can nurture them, we can even sometimes create spaces or environments that encourage them, but we cannot make them happen. In fact, communities seem to thrive the most when we leave them the heck alone.

So I guess where this rambling is taking me is that this is perhaps why we shrink back at the thought of “creating” new communities outside the walls–because the moment we start trying to create them, we’re basically building a new set of walls in an attempt to define them. And this is where my thinking is starting to change. Maybe we have this backwards. If community happens naturally among us, maybe the way a community forms will tell us something about how it is shaped and how it should function. We’ve been dictating the terms of community, rather than the other way around.

In fact…maybe if we stop trying so hard to make community happen and just look around a bit, we might find places where it’s already happening around us. More on that in part 3…

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An Online Community for Disenfranchised Believers

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Categories: church, community, link love

This morning, my blogger friend Glenn, a former institutional church pastor, just launched a new site you should check out.

Communitas Collective describes itself as “a place for the rest of us.” It’s a social online community site specifically designed for people who are leaving (or have left) institutional forms of church and are trying to navigate their relationship with Christ without that map. Since that idea comprises quite a lot of what I talk about here…I guess it makes sense that I would be excited about this.

In looking around the site, while it’s just up and running, a couple of things in particular stood out to me and particularly impressed me:
  1. It pretty much avoids labels like “emergent” and “missional”, which already come with a bit of baggage attached. (I personally draw from the emergent/missional stream and have friendships there, but have never felt the badge or culture there quite fits where I’m at.) This lack of labeling is a plus in itself, because it welcomes people who aren’t in any category. (In fact–that’s exactly what it’s for.)
  2. It doesn’t seem to promote any agenda other than connection and support. It’s not selling an idea. The vibe seems to genuinely be to help people on their journey, not gather them for a cause. I felt the invitation to connect, not a pitch to join a club.
  3. It sports a healthy balance between interactive social community, articles and resources without being preachy. Glenn has, in fact, recruited several other of my blogger friends to contribute content to the site.
In short…I like it. 🙂 Go over there and see what you think.

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Thoughts on Building Authentic Christian Community (June Syncrhoblog)

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Categories: community, food for thought

(This entry is part of Glenn’s June Synchrhoblog. This synchroblog lasts for several days, so check back as more links are added. And if you want to participate, be sure to link back to Glenn.)

The feeling of “alone-ness” I spoke of in my last post is something that is common among people who, like me, are in various stages of separating from institutional forms of church. Some simply feel like misfits among the status quo; others have been wounded or victimized by spiritual abuse. And some have even attempted alternative forms of community outside the walls of church, only to have them implode and end unpleasantly; so they are fearful of trying again.

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Some Thoughts on the Need for Community

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Categories: church, community, Meanderings (look it up)

A few days ago Erin wrote an honest post called “A Place For Us“, which touched off a firestorm of comments as people shared their ideas, hopes, fears, dreams, and longings to find authentic Christian community with others without the trappings of organized religion. Just reading the comments can be almost overwhelming (but try it anyway). If nothing else, they point to a deep shared need among the growing number of people who are disenfranchised with religious systems.

We might be disillusioned with institutional church. We might be jaded and wounded by the abuses we’ve suffered. We might be nauseated by the idea of regular structured meetings of any kind–under a steeple, in a home, or in a park. We might be so broken that we just don’t trust anybody outside the virtual world of blogging.

But we still long for community with other believers. We still need it, even though we may not trust it. We still dream of it happening in a lifegiving way, even though we may not dare hope for it.

Dare we hope for it?

I say we dare.

When I say that, I don’t intend to cheapen this issue by claiming to have the answers as to what a healthy community looks like, or how to have one. Emotions and opinions both run quite deep on this issue, and I think what it looks like is shaped by who is there and where it’s happening. God is way too diverse for us to reduce things like this to formulas, and that’s why I don’t put a lot of stock in people who vigorously claim that their picture of it is the right one.

However, in our quest to either find or form this kind of community, I think there is a way we can approach it with wisdom. For what they are worth…here are some thoughts I have on the matter…

1. You are going to be hurt.

Gosh, maybe this shouldn’t be point one. But lemme splain.

Fear of being wounded again is probably the number one reason why people who have left church groups are reluctant to try again. When we have been wounded, the reflex is to build walls or barriers or try to put safeguards in place to prevent it from happening again. And even when we venture out and try to re-connect, our impulse is to try and set things up in such a way that people (read: we) won’t get hurt. But here’s the thing: people are ultimately the ones who wound us, not an institution. We wound one another because we are all broken. And meeting outside the walls of an institution will not change this. If our main objective is to avoid being hurt, it ultimately results in avoiding relationship altogether–and that means missing out on the potential of great joy and fulfillment. That can’t be the answer. So rather than trying to avoid being hurt, we need to learn how to deal with one another with grace and forgiveness, and we need to learn to look to Jesus our healer when we do get hurt. The potential for healthy, lifegiving community is ultimately worth the risk of pain.

2. Lasting, healthy communities cannot be built on the mutual dislike of something else.

I recognize many such organic communities will consist of broken, hurting people, each with their own story of pain. But ultimately the cohesion of the group cannot be about what everyone is against, or in my opinion it will not last. You need to be for something. A love for God, and love for one another, with Christ at the center, and hopefully some sense of shared mission. These are at the foundation of healthy community, no matter how it fleshes out.

3. The fact that communities disband (or even implode) does not automatically mean they shouldn’t have existed, or that they did something wrong.

I notice that a lot of people are reluctant to join or form communities because they are concerned that at some point things will go south, and the group will implode or scatter. And because of our brokenness, while we can make good choices along the way that might help, there is no way to completely guarantee that this will not happen. That does not mean the group didn’t serve a good purpose for a season, or that we shouldn’t try again. Having been through my share of negative experiences, it’s my belief that everything is redeemable by God–even bad experiences. I’ve probably learned more from my bad experiences than my good ones. And a “bad” ending doesn’t have to ruin the good experiences gained.

We often have the mentality that a community that forms should last forever, and if it doesn’t, we failed. But if the church is really the fluid entity we think it is, it makes sense that there are times and seasons for certain communities. Sometimes a community goes south just because it outlasted its expiration date. And sometimes a community can last a multitude of seasons just by being willing to reinvent itself repeatedly. There is no set time span for healthy communities; each one is different. Our home church has lasted 8 years so far, and has undergone a lot of shift and change and turnover during that time. It is, in my opinion, a healthy community (although it hasn’t always been). We’d love it to last forever, but we’ve known for a long time that it lives or dies by the breath of God. So we have hope for the future, but we trust the future to the Lord, and seek His will for the present hour.

4. We are part of a story that is still being written. We are part of God’s bigger picture. And we need to be flexible during transition.

What I mean by this is that even though there are many who feel isolated and alone, or jaded by church, seeing no good purpose in it–I believe we are still part of a bigger picture. There are common threads running through our experiences that tell me that God is up to something with all this, and we don’t know what it all is going to look like. One reason the need for community is so deeply felt by the disenfranchised is that they are so alone with their feelings. Many of us feel we are the only ones who see things this way, that there is no one around us to have community with. That’s a legitimate feeling, but it won’t always be that way. This chapter is still unfolding, and this shift is still in the early stages. In the meantime…this also means that whatever forms our communities might take, we need to hold them loosely. Just because “community” looks like this today does not mean it will look the same in a few years. We should purpose in our hearts to be flexible and adaptable.

So…all this to say that despite all our concerns and fears about forming community, I think ultimately it’s better to face those concerns and not allow them to stop us. There is a deep, God-inspired need within us, and when we yield that sense of need to Jesus and ask Him to lead us, I believe He will respond to that. There may be issues of timing and healing, but ultimately, I believe the reward is well worth the risk.

That’s what I think, anyway…what about you?