Community. We all want it. Some of us want it so much that we’ll chase from church to church, person to person, trying to find it.
But community for community’s sake is flawed. In the end it actually kills us. If we pursue community for the sake of having a community for ourselves, we’re really just pursuing an idol that we hope will take care of our us.
But instead, I want to suggest we search for communitas*. For most of us, communitas is a strange word, but it describes the very essence of community that is formed among a group of peers when they go through a dangerous or disorienting experience.
That’s a lot of jargon for something we all know: When you go through something difficult with a group of people, the experience changes you. And it doesn’t just change you, but every person in the group is linked more tightly because of what they’ve experienced.
Think of the WWII or Vientam vets who haven’t seen their fellow soldiers in decades. Yet you put those same guys in a room and give them a little space and it seems as if only minutes had passed since the last time they were together. It’s the same way with guys who have been part of a stable and healthy recovery group or those friends that went with you on that missions trip that one time.
In each scenario, a group of people find themselves in a risky or unknown situation and work through it. You all learn to depend on each other, compensate for each others’ weaknesses, and know each others’ strengths. You bond with each other because you’ve been through some things together. It’s communitas, and it beats community every single time.
The problem with church is that it can look a lot more like a book club than a mission trip. There’s no risky venture attempted with a group of people. Many churches lack the faith of leap. And so they can have as many potlucks and Bible studies as they want to, but community never forms.
I’ve watched house churches struggle with this as well. They’ve pursued perfecting their community before they try to reach out to the lost. They really wanted to be united and built up to the place where they feel they can go on mission together. They pursued community and missed communitas.
But I’ve also seen house churches catch the Lord’s heart for the lost in a way that compels them to take the gospel to dangerous places. These people probably are just as young and immature, but they leap together, putting their trust in Jesus to fill in the gaps. Do things always go perfectly? Rarely. But communitas–the true spirit of community–gets formed in those house churches and a lost world gets reached in the process.
There is a world out there looking for community. They’ll do anything they can to get it. Jesus promised us that if we tried to keep/save our lives we would lose them, but if we laid down our lives for His sake and the sake of the Gospel, we would find it. I believe if we seek community for its own sake we will never find it. But if we lay down our lives and do the dangerous work of bringing Jesus’ message to those who are far from Him, we will find community in deep and rich ways we never thought possible.
So don’t look for community, look for communitas.
* I am again indebted to Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch for their profound book on this subject: The Faith of Leap (affiliate link).