May 21, 2008 by

Some Thoughts on the Need for Community


Categories: church, community, Meanderings (look it up)

A few days ago Erin wrote an honest post called “A Place For Us“, which touched off a firestorm of comments as people shared their ideas, hopes, fears, dreams, and longings to find authentic Christian community with others without the trappings of organized religion. Just reading the comments can be almost overwhelming (but try it anyway). If nothing else, they point to a deep shared need among the growing number of people who are disenfranchised with religious systems.

We might be disillusioned with institutional church. We might be jaded and wounded by the abuses we’ve suffered. We might be nauseated by the idea of regular structured meetings of any kind–under a steeple, in a home, or in a park. We might be so broken that we just don’t trust anybody outside the virtual world of blogging.

But we still long for community with other believers. We still need it, even though we may not trust it. We still dream of it happening in a lifegiving way, even though we may not dare hope for it.

Dare we hope for it?

I say we dare.

When I say that, I don’t intend to cheapen this issue by claiming to have the answers as to what a healthy community looks like, or how to have one. Emotions and opinions both run quite deep on this issue, and I think what it looks like is shaped by who is there and where it’s happening. God is way too diverse for us to reduce things like this to formulas, and that’s why I don’t put a lot of stock in people who vigorously claim that their picture of it is the right one.

However, in our quest to either find or form this kind of community, I think there is a way we can approach it with wisdom. For what they are worth…here are some thoughts I have on the matter…

1. You are going to be hurt.

Gosh, maybe this shouldn’t be point one. But lemme splain.

Fear of being wounded again is probably the number one reason why people who have left church groups are reluctant to try again. When we have been wounded, the reflex is to build walls or barriers or try to put safeguards in place to prevent it from happening again. And even when we venture out and try to re-connect, our impulse is to try and set things up in such a way that people (read: we) won’t get hurt. But here’s the thing: people are ultimately the ones who wound us, not an institution. We wound one another because we are all broken. And meeting outside the walls of an institution will not change this. If our main objective is to avoid being hurt, it ultimately results in avoiding relationship altogether–and that means missing out on the potential of great joy and fulfillment. That can’t be the answer. So rather than trying to avoid being hurt, we need to learn how to deal with one another with grace and forgiveness, and we need to learn to look to Jesus our healer when we do get hurt. The potential for healthy, lifegiving community is ultimately worth the risk of pain.

2. Lasting, healthy communities cannot be built on the mutual dislike of something else.

I recognize many such organic communities will consist of broken, hurting people, each with their own story of pain. But ultimately the cohesion of the group cannot be about what everyone is against, or in my opinion it will not last. You need to be for something. A love for God, and love for one another, with Christ at the center, and hopefully some sense of shared mission. These are at the foundation of healthy community, no matter how it fleshes out.

3. The fact that communities disband (or even implode) does not automatically mean they shouldn’t have existed, or that they did something wrong.

I notice that a lot of people are reluctant to join or form communities because they are concerned that at some point things will go south, and the group will implode or scatter. And because of our brokenness, while we can make good choices along the way that might help, there is no way to completely guarantee that this will not happen. That does not mean the group didn’t serve a good purpose for a season, or that we shouldn’t try again. Having been through my share of negative experiences, it’s my belief that everything is redeemable by God–even bad experiences. I’ve probably learned more from my bad experiences than my good ones. And a “bad” ending doesn’t have to ruin the good experiences gained.

We often have the mentality that a community that forms should last forever, and if it doesn’t, we failed. But if the church is really the fluid entity we think it is, it makes sense that there are times and seasons for certain communities. Sometimes a community goes south just because it outlasted its expiration date. And sometimes a community can last a multitude of seasons just by being willing to reinvent itself repeatedly. There is no set time span for healthy communities; each one is different. Our home church has lasted 8 years so far, and has undergone a lot of shift and change and turnover during that time. It is, in my opinion, a healthy community (although it hasn’t always been). We’d love it to last forever, but we’ve known for a long time that it lives or dies by the breath of God. So we have hope for the future, but we trust the future to the Lord, and seek His will for the present hour.

4. We are part of a story that is still being written. We are part of God’s bigger picture. And we need to be flexible during transition.

What I mean by this is that even though there are many who feel isolated and alone, or jaded by church, seeing no good purpose in it–I believe we are still part of a bigger picture. There are common threads running through our experiences that tell me that God is up to something with all this, and we don’t know what it all is going to look like. One reason the need for community is so deeply felt by the disenfranchised is that they are so alone with their feelings. Many of us feel we are the only ones who see things this way, that there is no one around us to have community with. That’s a legitimate feeling, but it won’t always be that way. This chapter is still unfolding, and this shift is still in the early stages. In the meantime…this also means that whatever forms our communities might take, we need to hold them loosely. Just because “community” looks like this today does not mean it will look the same in a few years. We should purpose in our hearts to be flexible and adaptable.

So…all this to say that despite all our concerns and fears about forming community, I think ultimately it’s better to face those concerns and not allow them to stop us. There is a deep, God-inspired need within us, and when we yield that sense of need to Jesus and ask Him to lead us, I believe He will respond to that. There may be issues of timing and healing, but ultimately, I believe the reward is well worth the risk.

That’s what I think, anyway…what about you?

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.

6 Responses to Some Thoughts on the Need for Community

  1. co_heir

    That’s something I’ve been thinking about for some time. I’m still part of a “regular” church, but I’m increasingly drawn to the idea of a community that is more incarnational/missional. I just don’t know what form it would take or how to go about encouraging others who have left churches.

    I don’t want to just leave “church”, but I’m frustrated by the lack of community.

  2. Erin

    I agree with you and I don’t want to be one of these people who says “well community burned me, so now I’m going to go my own way forever”.

    But it’s so hard.

    I have to tell you, you did say something that I’ve thought but not heard often, the idea that if a ministry implodes at some point it was a failure. I have wondered how long we are really meant to be in any manifestation of “church”…because staying in something will keep us stuck after awhile. Like maybe we are to sense these kinds of things (things that go wrong or hurt us) as a move of God to push us into something new. Because I know God was trying to move me for almost a year before things really had to go south. Like God literally had to kick me in the rear and say “OUT”.

    What do you think?

  3. Jeff McQ

    Even as a house church, we’ve been grappling with some of the same stuff–how to be more missional in our approach and not knowing yet what that looks like. I can relate to that.

    This concept of seeing communities as seasonal expressions rather than permanent fixtures is fairly new to me, also. But I think it makes sense in the grid of seeing the overall church itself as fluid and organic.

    I personally have a hard time letting go of projects I start, because ending them feels like failure to me. Several times I’ve been guilty of letting something drag on beyond its time, or even sometimes holding onto people who were wanting to move on–and living to regret that choice later.

    I don’t pretend to know all the mysteries of this, but I do believe its in the realm of God’s sovereignty to even use an “implosion” to move us forward or to get us to let go of something we’re holding too tightly. I think the persecution of the Jerusalem church that started with Stephen’s death (Acts 7-8) is a good example; it’s apparent that the scattering of the saints was directly related to their beginning to fulfill the Great Commission. Thus, not to trivialize the very real wounds we have sustained…I still believe even our negative experiences can be redeemable in some way.

    I don’t think these seasons of community have a set time; I think it depends on the plans and purposes of God. Also, I think there is the balance that we should not be floaty and uncommitted when it comes to whatever form of community we are in. But to me, it simply underscores the need to be sensitive to God’s Spirit in our lives, and truly let Jesus the Shepherd lead us.

    Thanks again for sparking the conversation.

  4. Doorman-Priest

    I simply think that every new expression of church will inevitably become institutionalised at some stage and then the whole cycle starts again.

  5. Happy

    Thank you for this – I’ve been reading a lot of this conversation on various blogs and your post has given me some good food for thought… I really like that word, “fluid” – as a description of the church… never really thought of it that way before, but it makes sense, and puts things in perspective a bit…

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