Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Problem With Community

Community is a wonderful thing. It is how we make disciples and how we grow in the Christian life. But, there is a problem that happens when followers of Jesus come together to live in community. The problem is that there are not that many people who really want to be in community as Scripture presents it.

Most of us have an idealized picture of what Christian community is. We see it as an idyllic place where we are loved and accepted completely and there are never any disagreements, at least any that may lead to someone being hurt. We may see community as simply a group of friends, while the real work of the church gets done on Sunday. We have what Bonhoeffer called "wish dreams," utopian visions of community. These wish dreams are extremely dangerous, and can eventually kill the community. These idealized pictures cause us to try to center community around something other than Christ and to attempt to keep it going by the sheer force of our wills. I can attest, from personal experience that centering community around anything other than Jesus and what he has done for us will cause the community to crash and burn, with the resultant "loss of life."

Community is messy. I may misunderstand you or disappoint you. I may offend you or hurt you deeply. You may do the same to me. We will disagree on things. Sometimes those disagreements may be heated. None of us are perfect. Anyone who knows me knows how true that is. Sometimes though, we forget that and are ready to run at the first sign of conflict or the first hurt feeling. Some will say, "That person yelled at me and totally misunderstood me. I'm leaving." Or, " He wounded me deeply. I can't be a part of this anymore." While there may be times to leave a group if things are bad, many times the leavers have had their picture of community shattered and don't want to deal with the messiness of trying to work things out. Maybe hard things need to be said or heard. That is part of living as the family of God.

Others will say, "I'm just not being fed. I need a good preacher to feed me." Good preaching is a part of our growth in Christ, but it is only a part. I would argue, and I think Scripture would bear this out, that the intimate gatherings of God's children, whether in Missional communities, small groups, or one to one, do more to facilitate spiritual formation than even the best preaching or teaching. It is in the interaction we have with our brothers and sisters on a daily or at least regular basis that shape us. It is in those times that we learn how to follow Jesus in our day-to-day. As we spend time together, we see how others respond in certain situations. The times of disagreement and the times we mess up should be the best times to learn how to love as Jesus loved us and how to extend the same grace we have been given. The troubling times should be the times that actually form us more into Christ's image and draw us closer to one another.

To do that though, requires us to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. We don't like to do that because we may have tried and been ground under the heel of someone we trusted. It's hard. I've felt like I had my heart torn out and stomped on. Add that to the fact that we are basically selfish and living in community looks pretty hard, even impossible. That's why it has to be centered in the gospel. We are called to be people who repent, who forgive, who seek reconciliation, and who willingly lay down our lives for others. We can only do that if the Spirit has formed our community and gives us the power to live as a spiritual family.

It hurts when people leave. May our communities truly be places where the gospel is lived out and where God's kingdom comes.

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