March 20, 2010 by

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


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…

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.

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

  1. Anonymous

    Thanks for the 'ramble'. It made me consider a question I was asked recently in a different light. I was asked if I had found a body to commit to. Mulling this over I realized I was invested in several places with believers at different levels of 'commitment'. If 'a body' is THE body of Christ, the Head being Christ Himself, then I must belong to part of the blood stream moving here and there! However, if 'community' is what is meant by 'a body', is it a group of people meeting in one area or another? If so, as I move in and out of each community I must ask myself, "Am I to both give and receive here, and how much of each?"
    What is the purpose of community? Do different communities have different purposes, and is it OK to receive more in one, and give more of myself in another?

  2. Ruth

    Hi again jeff

    I really appreciated your thoughts on this. Your such a gifted writer to express and share what you are thinking. I also love reading all the comments & discussions. And also your illustration of what happened to you trying to force relationship, going at relationship out of a sense of obligation or duty is not genuine.

    Your last thought about when we take our focus off of trying to make community happen, and just look around us, then we will see differently in terms of opportunities for the expression of His life in us and others.

    Ijust appreciated these posts – woops i already said that! lol

  3. rob

    I think Jeff, that as we better do the Spirit led life we are being freed by him (from our old baggage/old paradigms) to be in relationships with his people(as well as his people to be, i.e., his ready soil for seeds), and as he is the one connecting us to them it does come together more and more, could we say naturally and organically, or should we say supernaturally… as in all the "accidental" relational meetings in our days more and more just may be actually orchestrated by a supernatural God…!? If that be so maybe "birthed" community will be sneaking up all around us! We just need eyes to see.

  4. Jeff McQ

    A few years ago, I would have probably chided you for your split commitment, especially over the issue of "taking" from one community and "giving yourself" to another. But it is a bit of a can of worms to me now, because I no longer see community as "give and take", but "belonging"–and while we are part of the larger Body of Christ, I don't think (in theory, anyhow) that we can't belong to more than one community of faith.

    That said–there is another issue in play here, and that is one of expectations and ethics. I would have little doubt that the leaders of the community you are "receiving" from would feel a little taken for granted by you "giving" to another community, simply because they are the ones pouring themselves into you and others, and there's an inherent expectation that you invest yourself back into the place where you're receiving. It may not be God's best, but created communities do have that give-and-take dynamic, and when you attend them, you're implying agreement with that approach. It's almost impossible for you to divide your interests without at least one of the groups feeling slighted. My point is that regardless of whether *theoretically* this is okay or not, you risk causing needless offense unless there truly is no sense of ownership within the communities you're involved with. I can't tell you what to do about this, but just for the sake of doing right by your brethren, you might at least make sure each community is okay with your level of commitment, and be willing to go along with the ground rules of any community you enter.

    Thanks for the kudos…and the kudos. 🙂

    Not only do I think we're going to see more of these divine appointments in the coming days…but where and how community happens may genuinely suprise us. I'm already experiencing this a little bit…just a teaser for the next post. 🙂

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