I had an interesting and enjoyable conversation with a young man today. He wanted to talk with me about building a community based church. He said that there are all kinds of materials out there on traditional models of doing church. But there is hardly anything out there concerned with building a church that emphasizes relationship and community. Almost all material out there is on how to tweak style, not substance. He asked me if I knew of any. No, not much. He said that he’s saved a file of all my posts on community. He wanted to talk with me about it. So he called me and we had a good chat.
Here’s some of the things we talked about:
- There are no rules to follow. If few are doing it, then they are doing it in their own unique contexts with their own unique people in their own unique way. There aren’t grand general rules that apply to all situations.
- It’s like being a pioneer or an explorer. I have a good friend who teases me about comparing what I did as a pastor to being an explorer. I admit: my physical life is not in danger. I’m not living on seal blubber and sucking on snow in sub-zero temperatures. The dangers I faced are different. But they are just as real. It is no joke pioneering this kind of church community. It is serious business. And it takes a great deal of courage. But if you value it, it’s worth it. What materials are out there on doing what he wants to do? Hardly anything. Are there materials out there on how to be a pioneer? What does that take? Guts. Resilience. Period.
- I compare what I was trying to do with being a family. My family would rebel if I tried to be their autocratic, charismatic, visionary leader. Businesses and countries are a whole other matter. If you want to build a corporation, then be that kind of leader. If you want to build community and be a part of it yourself, treat it like family.
- Flexibility. You have to do it one day at a time. Although you might have some general values that you embrace, strategizing weeks or months or years ahead is a futile exercise. It’s like your family: you have values. You can generally plan ahead. But if you have kids, you know that each day is a new day and must be executed freshly.
- Be openly humble. Admit to your people that you don’t really know what you’re doing or how this is going to turn out. You are learning one day at a time. You are learning and discovering together. You are not the all-knowing leader.
- He was concerned about burn-out. Lisa and I found it interesting that we couldn’t tell if we were always working or if we were just always hanging out with our friends. That’s what community is. I rarely met people in my study. I always avoided the feeling of clinical. That’s not family. Rather, we always met over coffee, lunch, or wine in the evenings. And Lisa and I made it a point of taking an evening or two to ourselves and a day on the weekend. Easy-peasy.
- Smaller groups help glue the community. Each smaller part strengthens the larger part. This is where everyone gets to play, experiment and experience community up close and personal. However… and this is something else I’ve discovered over the years… a smaller group with disgruntled members can cause problems.
- Chaos theory: it is messy, unpredictable and unattractive. When people discover a place where they can experiment in authenticity and encounter the authenticity of the other, sparks fly. Some start fires that destroy. But some start fires that warm the heart. People won’t flock to it for it’s appeal. But those who want to experience community will trickle in.
- This kind of community can attract very needy people. Some stay and find healing. Some stay until they figure their needs aren’t being met according to their liking and leave. This can include the pastor ,)
- My experience is that money can be a problem with this kind of community. If you want community, it takes volunteerism. Which means you can’t employ the tithing campaign. You will rely on people’s goodwill. Which sometimes runs thin. But those who believe in what you are doing and value such a community will bless it beyond their means.
This is just a start but I ended at 10. I like lists of 10.