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).
The most transforming relationship that you’ll ever be a part of is a relationship with Jesus.
But once in a relationship with Jesus, He leads us into relationships with His followers that have a transforming affect on our lives.
Transforming relationships are transparent, relational, and accountable.
They begin with transparency. You open up about your weakness and failures, your struggles, and your great need for a savior. Frequently this gives permission for others to be honest about their brokenness in a way that few have ever had. This is usually the missing element in transforming relationships.
Built on transparency, true brotherhood or sisterhood emerges. What wrecks relationships is jealousy, competition, and ego. So with the newfound transparency a true relationship is born. You help each other, not to get, but because you see and understand each other. Mutual relationship gives birth to love which gives birth to serving one another.
And finally (but usually the part we want first) is accountability. Once we have been honest about our weakness and have been in a relationship of love and service to one another, we can hold one another accountable. This isn’t the kind of accountability where you say “Try harder or I’m done with you,” but an accountability that’s birthed out of genuine care for a weak and broken human being. And because it’s birthed out of love and mutual understanding, this type of accountability (along with the power of Jesus) births transformation in the human heart.
We all want these types of relationships. The mechanics of these relationships aren’t difficult. The reason we see so few people enter into them is they are costly. Someone has to go first. But once you’ve had one or two, you’ll never go back.
Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. ‘The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared’ (Luther).
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community