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.)
When we first came here to Denver, we’d just ended a ten-year run doing the house church thing. It was as organic as we knew how to make it, but at the same time, if I’m going to be honest…it was a created community. We actually started the thing as an institutional gathering, with the express intent of making it grow. By the time it ran its course, our attitudes were much different; but we still felt responsible for it, and we carried the emotional weight of its success or failure (whatever those words mean). We love the people that were part of it, and still stay in touch; but whatever this thing was, when we ended it and came to Denver, we were ready for a break.
Interestingly, we almost immediately felt the subtle tug of several different existing communities or gatherings when we got here. We felt welcomed, to be sure, and were definitely supported and encouraged in ways we hadn’t experienced in many years; but whether spoken or unspoken, we felt this hopeful expectation that we would eventually become a part of whatever someone else had going on. We weren’t opposed to this, we were open to whatever; but as far as making any kind of official or emotional commitment to an existing community of believers, we have just felt a “wait-and-see-what-happens” from God. Even when we’ve felt a bit alone (which has been frequent), and felt like maybe we should connect somewhere just to feel a sense of belonging, we’ve had a sense that we shouldn’t do it–not yet. Like whatever was going to happen, hadn’t happened yet. Just wait and watch; that’s what we’ve been feeling.
As we’ve done this, we’ve begun to see two things happen that have combined to make a sort of bittersweetness:
- The bitter part is that we’ve gradually heard less and less from the people that once were surrounding us–almost as though when they got the idea we weren’t jumping on board with their thing, they sort of gave up on us. I don’t want to judge hearts on that issue; it is what it is, whatever the reasons.
- The sweet part is…as we’ve just continued doing the creative things that are in front of us to do, we are forming a significant number of friendships that don’t exist within any parameter of created community, and many of these friendships are with people who are not believers. For me, it’s been in my covering the local music scene through my music blog and through Examiner.com. For The Wild One, it’s been through a photography/book project she’s working on, spotlighting creative women. In both situations, we are encountering moments of community and moments of ministry that used to happen to us only inside the churchy bubble. On more than one occasion, I’ve gotten word that a positive review I wrote about a local musician has lifted the person’s spirits at a time when they were feeling particularly discouraged, to the point that they can’t stop talking about it (in Christian-ese: it ministered to them). And in some cases, especially among the younger ones, the need for nurture and mentorship is almost tangible–and I find myself “pastoring” them before I even know what’s happening. 🙂 The Wild One is having similar experiences with her photography subjects.
This experience is showing us a whole different way of looking at community–because when we didn’t just create another community, and we didn’t succumb to the pressure to join up with one, we have found community happening around us, giving us a clue as to where our focus needs to be. We’ve seen God doing things outside the walls, and inviting us to be part of it. And that has been the most important lesson, I think–to stop trying to fashion community after our self-induced parameters, and take our cues from what is happening around us. This is what I mean by finding community rather than creating it. God’s already doing things around us; perhaps what we need to do is look at what He’s doing and respond to it in a life giving way. Maybe that will tell us something about how a future community of believers can be shaped.
Here’s another way of looking at it. Jesus’ commission to us was to go into all the world and preach the good news. The “good news” thing we’ve gotten down to a science, possibly even to the point of over-refining it. The “into all the world” thing is where we may be dropping the ball–because the way we spread the good news is typically by inserting our Christianized “world” (read: created community) into a local area and trying to convince people to hook up with it. In other words, I don’t think we’re really going into their world; we’re trying to get them to come into ours. And that’s not really how Jesus modeled it. He didn’t set up little “chapters of heaven” and try to get people to join; He left heaven and came to us, becoming part of our community, and in so doing, He brought a bit of heaven into our world.
My picture of all this is still in the formative stages (so forgive me if it seems a bit vague or scattered), but eventually what I think will happen is that as we continue responding to the community God is revealing around us, eventually God will begin drawing people to Himself, and a community of believers will form naturally, defined not by a set of bylaws, meetings or even doctrinal statements, but only by a mutual desire to follow Christ–the way “church” actually looked in its earliest form. That is a day that I look for, long for, and will celebrate when I see.