(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.
And yet…we still long for community. It’s an inbred need that goes back to Adam in the garden, and the reason God created Eve. We were not built to be alone. We long…to belong. It’s just that when what has been modeled for us in the past either hasn’t worked or has caused injury, we wonder if the healthy community we long for can actually exist.
I don’t claim to have a lot of expertise here…just a few thoughts on the matter, from someone who may or may not know what he’s talking about. (How’s that for a disclaimer?) 🙂
1. Community was the goal of the early church–not church programs, strategies, or vision statements.
This is a truth I think we need to return to. Yes, the heart of the mission of Christ has been integral to the church since its begining…but ultimately the first believers began gathering together out of the deep desire to be together. Every day, the Bible says, in fact. This truth is often lost and forgotten among all our church mission/vision statements.
As a church leader in the institutional approach, I basically learned to lead people by “pitching” a vision to them and getting them excited about it. The entire focus was on the vision, and anyone who didn’t participate in the vision wasn’t a “team player”. So much for community.
Glenn, in his post today, asks (among other things) how we avoid the pitfall of “disintegrating because of diverse ‘visions'” when trying to build community. Perhaps we need to think outside the box about this one. What if we’ve been missing the point? What if the community we build isn’t supposed to be around a vision statement? What if it’s supposed to be about the people themselves? What if the focus became to make a safe place of fellowship for people who do have diverse visions–a place for them to find acceptance and grace while they pursue those visions? I do believe in having a shared sense of mission within community…but I just wonder if we’ve been making an idol of the mission itself. What if the mission is supposed to happen on the other days of the week when we don’t meet–and when we gather, let it be about the people? Just sayin’.
2. Community will not be perfect, and will not be without the risk of hurt.
This is simply because communities are made up of broken, imperfect people–many of whom are sustaining fresh wounds. I think, sobering as it might be, it’s best to assume you will get hurt when interacting with people. The objective can’t be to avoid pain; even isolating yourself entirely won’t get rid of pain (because as we already know, when you remove yourself from community, you will ache for it). I think the key is to walk in forgiveness, healing, grace, and love. Love will take the risk, face the hurt, find healing, and take the risk again. And again. I can only imagine the pain our Father faces daily when He sees the ones He died for rejecting Him over and over again; and still His love willingly engages and invites them.
I think probably the best approach to have when trying to build community–especially in this hour–is to extend a great deal of grace to one another.
3. The form is not as important as the substance.
The Bible actually gives us quite a bit of latitude as to what our gatherings can be like; it focuses more on the general issues like how we treat one another, how to prefer one another, how to encourage one another, etc. I think it’s important in this season to be flexible and do what works as far as when/where/how to meet, and what should happen in the meeting. What works for one group won’t neccessarily work for another; there is no cookie-cutter version here. (That’s actually why I’m staying pretty general in my thoughts rather than trying to devise a plan that answers all the questions.)
The roots of our faith actually go farther back than the Book of Acts or the Day of Pentecost. They go back to when the disciples were following Jesus. Following Jesus is the heart of discipleship, and the heart of the church. When figuring out what it looks like or what we should do, the question in the forefront of our minds should be, What would best help us to follow Jesus together?
4. Don’t avoid leadership for its own sake, but don’t be pressured to establish leadership for its own sake, either.
While Jesus is the Shepherd of us all, human leadership is entirely Biblical–even though much of what has been modeled for us in recent days has reeked of corruption. It’s just that we have a warped view of what Godly leadership looks like, and we need to re-learn it.
At the same time, it’s fair to say we don’t really know what Godly leadership looks like, and while that truth is unfolding to us, it’s fair to hold the concept of leadership loosely. We are in a transitional period, and what things look like now may be different even a few years from now. So it’s best not to make blanket statements or generalizations about the issue of leadership just now.
That said…God does gift certain ones to lead, and when Godly servant leadership emerges, it’s okay to let them lead. Sometimes communities will be started by such a leader. Other times a leader might emerge from a group, when it becomes apparent that one has a natural sense of influence with the others. But if no leader is apparent, or people aren’t in a place where they can trust someone to lead–it’s probably best not to rush it.
However…it should be said that with no leadership, the gathering should probably not attempt to structure itself, or to embark on shared mission; it should remain loose-knit for the time being. The reason for this is that sometimes with no leader, our baser instincts try to fill the void. This will result in either people with agendas competing with each other for leadership roles (which can result in an implosion of the group), or a pressure to stay with the “least common denominator” that everyone can agree on (which usually results in nothing getting done). If you’re not willing to embrace a leader, your community will probably have to be honest about its limitations in order to stay healthy.
So those are my thoughts for now. I actually wrote some other things about this topic a few days ago, which you can read here.
Here are links to others who are currently participating:
“Community: The Dilemma” by Glenn
“Community: A Synchroblog” by Jason
“Thoughts on Building Authentic Christian Community” by Jeff
“Community is unnatural today” by Alan
“Why we don’t like grace” by Jonathan
“equality is an action word” by kathy