More spring boarding thoughts from this original post: Do you see a crowd or do you see “the one”? – One of my readers unkleE left a comment agreeing with my thoughts and further stated: “…it’s not just a matter of the church doing more to be personal, but being more personal in its whole life.” I think he got to the core issue!
Regular readers know that I’ve been a bit of a “spiritual refugee” the last several years bouncing among several churches. There were two churches we attended for awhile, but could never manage to assimilate despite trying hard to do so. Both of these churches had a similar focus on the importance of community. Christians need each other. (I agree!)
Attendees were heavily encouraged to join a “small group” that meets weekly. With all this focus on community, you would think these churches would have been very friendly and personal places, yet we found the opposite to be the case. They both seemed very cliquey. We tried some small groups but just didn’t experience a sense of genuine community.
I think unkleE’s comment on doing vs. being diagnoses the problem at some churches. A book I recently read entitled Exiles by Michael Frost had some similar thoughts. He quotes Brian McClaren (I’m not emergent fyi!) who says:
I tend to notice that when people use the words authenticity and community a lot, both tend to leave the premises. It’s easy to use authenticity and community as new marketing tools to win customers to our product; as soon as that happens, we violate authenticity and community. I think we get closer to both by pursuing love – by practicing the virtues found in 1 Corinthians 13.
While I wouldn’t say that the particular churches I am referring to were using community as a marketing tool, I think community was being focused on (perhaps inadvertently) as an end in itself rather than the means to an end. The focus was on doing community rather than being community. I hope you get that subtle but critical difference.
If we are “doing” community, it is easy to end up with an inward focus. It is about us and our small group that meets every Monday night. In church on Sunday we only interact with the people in our group, and fail to notice outsiders, visitors, or the lonely. We become exclusive, rather than inclusive.
But we don’t even realize that this has happened because, hey, we have a tight group and we are doing life together! Sadly, I think there are some in our churches who think they have genuine community, but actually have nothing close to it.
Ultimately community should have an outward focus, shouldn’t it?
As we look out and seek to draw others into the fellowship who aren’t a part of it. As we look out and see a neighborhood full of needs that we can address and people we can humbly serve. Community should be inclusive, not exclusive, as we seek to love others.
When we are focused on being community, it seems that the authentic and genuine community that we are wanting…develops all on its own! But when community in and of itself is the focus, the community we seek can remain evasive and just out of grasp.
Any thoughts? Is this making any sense?
Michael Frost develops some of these ideas further in his book Exiles. I don’t agree with Frost on everything and his missional church emphasis, yet I appreciated and related to a considerable amount. He asks good questions, has some legitimate concerns, and challenges western Christians to think outside the box. The book was also too long. An easy 100 pages could have been edited out, and it would have made the book more accessible. (This paragraph was my mini book review!)