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…