I've been having a lot of conversations lately about the idea of community. What is it? How do we find it? Can we conjure it up or does it happen organically?
Within the church, there are seasons in which certain buzzwords have become popular. 10-15 years ago, the big rave was "seeker sensitive." Are we reaching the people who Jesus is trying to reach? While the idea still exists and takes place within the church, it doesn't enjoy the same popularity that it once did.
Some of today's buzzwords are "community" and "missional" and "relevant." Those are great words, it's just important that we legitimately try to understand these words before we begin throwing them around. I certainly don't claim to hold the corner on the market regarding these definitions, but I am continually seeking understanding of them and how they are applied.
Over the next few posts, I'll do my best to unpack my understanding of these words. I think that they're important for us to apply if we are going to seek to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world. So let's talk about this idea of community.
When I was in high school, I took a class called "Humanities." We had the chance to go into New York City three times for field trips, which was probably the main reason I wanted to take the class. It was kind of cool that my dad was always asked to be a chaperone because of his knowledge of the City. Somehow, I didn't really mind as a teenager that my father was going as a chaperone on a field trip. At the end of the semester, we had to do a project and report. I chose the topic of community.
I don't remember a whole lot about the project other than the fact that I lived in a fairly affluent town and I made some kind of correlation between community and the amount of money that one had. Of course, I was young and idealistic (read: stupid?). I think I was on to something, but my articulation of it wasn't refined. Somehow I thought that the more money people had the less likely that they were to build community with the people who lived around them.
While that might be true to some extent, I have come to realize that community starts with commonality. In order to begin to build a community, there needs to be at least a few elements of commonality. Those elements can range from ethnicity to belief, from socioeconomic background to education, and on and on. There seems to be an endless amount of possibilities on which people can find commonality. But commonality does not make community. Community goes deeper than that.
What I fear happens too often within the church is that we find commonality and mistake it for community. We say that we believe the same thing and that we have the same moral values, and we assume that we are a community because of these commonalities, but we need to dig deeper. The problem becomes when we either think that we have gone "deep enough" or when we think that we need to dig deeper with everyone. Community is generally formed in pockets.
In the Book of Acts, we see believers who had commonalities that helped them morph into community. Acts 2:44 says, "All the believers were together and had everything in common." If you continue to read, you see that they really did have everything in common and that they were willing to make sacrifices for each other. In order for us to really form community, we need to go beyond the pleasantries that we generally experience. It's more than just a, "Hey, how's it going?" kind of greeting.
If we simply settle for finding common ground, we could be bound to simply form an environment of sameness rather than a culture of transformation. Do we really want to simply surround ourselves with a homogeneous community that will only spur us on to all be the same, or do we want to be spurred on to look more like Jesus every day?
John the Baptist's words in John 3 are the standard to which we need to strive. He said in verse 30, "He must become greater; I must become less." We need to constantly seek after the image of Christ while still maintaining our personalities and giftings. This can only happen in true community. We cannot be changed in isolation. While we can hear the Holy Spirit in isolation, our own objectivity is limited and we need others to help us see more objectively. That's where community comes in, but we won't listen to people within whom we have shallow and surficial relationships, at least I won't.
I am being challenged in this idea on a daily basis. There are many within the church who will challenge orthodoxy, but the beauty of community is that we have hundreds of years of history to lend us perspective and affirm the orthodoxy to which we ascribe. In community, conversation can happen, if we are simply seeking commonality, other voices will be stifled. Like I said, this is a constant "becoming" part of my life because I am far from an expert in this area, but I am striving to see less of me and more of Christ.