The Priority and Risk of Community
I hear so many people talk about community in the church. We want to develop community. We want to foster community. We want to use the word as many times as we can so everyone knows we value community. But there is a danger in all this talk of community becoming little more than a buzz word that we use to identify ourselves, especially over and against those other churches, who don’t have such great community as we do (or so we tell ourselves).
I read a book about self-deception for one of my seminary classes called I Told Me So. One of the arguments in it that stuck out to me the most is that the things we value most often become the areas where we are most easily self-deceived and least likely to listen to correction. When we value things more than we should, they become untouchable. We find it nearly impossible to reassess the priorities closest to our hearts. What does this have to do with community?
In the church, it is easy to talk about valuing community without getting into the nitty gritty of putting it into practice. Sure you may say you value community, but do those around you feel like they belong? Are there outsiders in your church? People who don’t quite fit in? When they speak up about their frustrations, do you even hear them? Have you become so enamored with the successes of your community-shaping endeavor, that you don’t understand when someone feels like they aren’t a part of your super awesome close-knit tight community?
In all our talk about community, it’s easy to miss the fact that community is not an end in itself. Community itself is an elusive goal. The goal instead should be love and unity in truth, the natural result of which is community. If you are shooting for community, but not seeking love and truth, you will never find it. If you are not actively loving people, speaking the truth, and hearing people when they speak the truth to you, there can be no community.
So let’s talk about community. But let’s recognize the priority of love and truth. Let’s be open to the truth that our community may not be the best thing since sliced bread. We may just be insiders (and who doesn’t love having a good group of friends?). But the outsiders disagree with our assessment of how super sweet our community is. Are we listening?