The journey we find ourselves on

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?

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2 responses

  1. Agram

    Points well taken, Andrew. Building community is one of the most difficult things the Church has to do. We are all fatally flawed with the remaining sin of self trying to regain control. We have died to self. It is no longer we who live, but Christ Jesus living in and through us. Yet, self still wants to be on the throne of our hearts. No where is that struggle greater than in the human relationships in which we are involved. Whether it be with our spouses, parents, children, friends, coworkers and fellow sojourners, the struggle is ongoing. I think it is our greatest battle and one where Satan seeks most often to gain control. We MUST battle on. Looking out not for our own interests, but ALWAYS for the interest of others. Not an easy task at all. A comment from your discussion struck me:
    “One of the arguments in it (the book I Told Me So) 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.” Note to Self: Value others more highly than I value myself or the “things” where I am easily self-deceived. Also, from the song you highlighted, “The Outsiders”, the outsiders “choose to be on the outside”. That is not a choice I want to make. While being on the inside of community is sometimes difficult work, it is the most rewarding and certainly where Christ would ultimately want us to be. Not sure I am anywhere near your target, but just some thoughts of my own. Soldier on my dear friend…

    April 24, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    • The project is never done, is it? That’s what I keep seeing, as churches grow, the challenge to love one another is daily. We can have great community with 20 people and fall apart at 50, or great community with 100 and fall apart at 200. Thinking we have arrived is dangerous.

      I don’t think the song was saying they chose to be on the outside. They talked about this song a bit when I saw them in concert. I think it was more the realization that they already were on the outside and were trying to break in. The song captures the frustration of the outsiders that try to fight their way in but get rebuffed.

      Thanks for your comment, Anita.

      April 24, 2012 at 3:32 pm

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