March 26, 2010 by

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


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.)

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 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.

Musician. Composer. Recovering perfectionist. Minister-in-transition. Lover of puns. Hijacker of rock song references. Questioner of the status quo. I'm not really a rebel. Just a sincere Christ-follower with a thirst for significance that gets me into trouble. My quest has taken me over the fence of institutional Christianity. Here are some of my random thoughts along the way. Read along, join in the conversation. Just be nice.

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

  1. Ruth


    I did not think it sounded vague or scattered. I was glad to see part three, thanks. And I can understand where you were coming from : about the subtle pressure to 'become' a part of their community. Real community doesn't exclude or pressure, or should i say real Love , love always includes others.

    Many of us are still in these formative stages along with you guys; I want to unlearn but also learn – learn how to respond to Him as He is working all around – taking Jesus to them & not waiting for them to come to us.

    It is amazing the amount of energy and imagination that has gone into the development of the religion of Christianity to try to make it appealing and 'draw the folks in'. anyhow have a great weekend

  2. Al

    I like your main point that community happens best when it happens. Our job is more to connect with whatever God is up to, than for us to make it happen.

    I want to encourage you to believe that what is happening now isn't just a precursor of the real thing, but probably is, in fact, the real thing already.

    Community/church/whatever you call it doesn't have to fit into any mold. If it involves encouraging people, loving them, accepting them, it is exactly what Christ envisioned the church to be.

    I think you have the right to celebrate already, God's work is being done through you today.

  3. Kel

    I'm with Al on this one

    where you're at now and what is unfolding isn't a lead up to the real thing or the main event

    now is it

    we left church some 5 years ago
    and we moved physical location a bit after that, various people tried to get us onto whatever bandwagon they were on re housechurch, network church, etc etc, we tried a couple of things, but in the end it was all just more of the same

    so now we're doing the go into the world thing, still trying to find our way, but making connections and living among people in ways we never did when huddled in the bubble of churchdom

    as i recently said to the wife of our last pastor – we are not rushing to fill the gap, not rushing to fill the space – we are prepared to sit in this space of 'aloneness' for as long as it takes and live out what we believe, no matter how fumblingly awkward or non-7-steps-to-success mode it may be

  4. Jeff McQ

    In all fairness, it should be noted that I completely understand the "subtle pressure" dynamic, because it is exactly how I once saw the church, and I've exerted that exact same pressure on others. Also, I would not say in any case that we have felt deliberately excluded; we'd be welcomed anytime we showed up, and if we expressed a critical need, someone would respond. I'd say it comes across to us more as "losing interest" than as exclusion. That said…very glad to be with you on the journey of unlearning/relearning. 🙂 Thanks.

    Thanks! What does it look like for you and Husband these days?

    I believe this is the real thing, indeed, and in those moments of connection I must say we feel the pulse of God more than we have in the previous several years of doing the church-meeting thing. Not saying God isn't showing up with gathered believers, just saying for us this is the freshness we've been hungering for. The future I seek to celebrate is that, of course, my heart longing is to see people drawn to Christ in those connections, and that sense of "koinonia" fellowship that comes from that. Even if that doesn't happen tho', we know we're in the right place. 🙂

    What you're describing about "going into the world" is very close to how my wife has verbalized this. She talks about how when she first became a Christian she was always interacting and sharing that faith with others; it was part of what energized her. When she entered the "ministry", she lost that dynamic entirely, got lost inside the bubble, had nobody but Christians in her circle, and nearly suffocated. 🙂 Ironically, as lonesome as it can get out here…from a certain point of view, we were more isolated inside the bubble than outside it. Thanks for chiming in!

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