Slow Church: Community, Continuity and Interdependency

we're all marching to our own drummers

There’s a delightful little passage that I came across yesterday morning during my coffee with God.  I’d read it before, but one of the things I love about reading the Bible is that the same passage, read at a different time and place, brings to light different truths.  It’s like a gem, held up to the light, and refracting differently depending on the angle and the light; the living word indeed!

Anyway, the story is in I Samuel 30, where David slaughters some Amalekites.  Don’t, for the moment, get hung up on the slaughter.  I’ll deal with that in a later post.  For now though, notice what happens after the victory’s been won.  David is coming home with the other warriors, and they’ve taken lots of bounty, the spoils of war, back with them.  When they get home, David insists that the soldiers share the bounty with 200 soldiers who were too tired to fight with the rest.  As David’s ready to share the spoils of war with the others, those who went into battle say:  “Because they did not go with us, we will not give them any of the spil that we have recovered, except to every man his wife and his children.”  In other words, it’s “every man for himself” as the saying goes.

David will have none of it though, and insists on the dividing the bounty equally among those who fought on the front lines and those who stayed home.  CLICK!  That’s my camera taking a snapshot of healthy community:  People caring for each other, including the weak caring for the strong; nobody in need – that’s the way it’s supposed to work.  There are some very important lessons here, if we’ll take a moment and ponder:

1. Community requires Continuity.  Right after moving to Seattle, I was at the home of some folk from the church where I’d just taken up leadership.  It was a wonderful evening of conversation, food, and real heartfelt sharing of life.  I said, “what you have here is amazing.  How can we build small groups with this kind of intimacy?”  Without hesitation someone said, “It’s easy.  Stick together for twenty years.” This is a direct affront to the idols of mobility and consumerism that characterize our culture.  We get offended, or bored, or things get difficult and so, with all the ease of changing from Cheerios to the Frosted Flakes, we “move on” in search of a church, or spouse, city that better “meets our needs.”

We can do that, but understand this:  there’s no community without continuity. The 200 who didn’t go into battle didn’t arrive just yesterday.  They were part of the community when they were strong and others were weak.   Now they’re week and others are strong.  Seasons of giving; seasons of receiving.  You can’t experience this without putting down some roots and settling in.

2. Community requires Interdependency.  Romans 15:1 speaks of the strong caring for those who are in a moment of weakness.  There oughtn’t be arrogance in those of strength because they are either weak in other ways, or will be weak on other days.  We need each other, more than we know.  This cuts straight across the grain of our deeply held individualism.  The vision, exemplified in David’s little group, and unfolded further in the early chapters of Acts, is a clear testimony of interdependency.  It means I share my excess today, and when I have a shortage tomorrow, someone else will be there for me.

To some this sounds idyllic.  To others it sounds terrifying.  To me it’s both.  To nearly all of us though, it’s quite foreign.  Are we being swept along by the tides of individualism and consumerism?  Both the testimony of Christ, and our collective well being is at stake.  How encourage one another to swim upstream, back towards the headwaters of genuine community, in a context of interdependency and continuity?

I welcome your thoughts.

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • Donny

    Virgins shouldn’t share their oil but soldiers should share their plunder? When it comes to spiritual concerns it’s “every man for himself”, but with community it’s “one for all and all for one”? How do we synthesize these two–forming “spiritual communities”–and know how to differentiate between these two scenarios?

    • Jordan

      I believe the point of the last post was that the virgins *couldn’t* share their oil… his sermon on Sunday pointed out that oil, in the Bible, represents the Holy Spirit, and you can’t share your portion with someone else… can’t vicariously save someone… that’s their choice, or at least between them and the Spirit alone… I believe you’re comparing apples and oranges here…

      Hope that helps!

  • Jordan

    This one, I think, is a struggle for me because most of the time I think it’s not a struggle for me… most of the time, I think I’m fairly generous with most of my excess if I see a need that needs filling… maybe you’ve read it, but An Arrow Pointing to Heaven by James Bryan Smith is a biography of Rich Mullens and he lived his life this way… there’s one part where he was basically couch surfing, and asked someone he barely knew if he could have a shower, fully expecting that he could… that’s just his mindset, and since I read the book, it’s basically become mine… I do the same thing with car rides…

    So that’s all well and good, but I think there are several parts of my life that I don’t share at all… I would find it hard, for example, to sell my TV if someone really needed extra money, like they would have in the early church in Acts…

    I don’t know… mostly I fear complacency… taking a “good enough” attitude that hinders growth… but at the same time I don’t want to do something reckless in a vain attempt to force growth, having God just shake his head and say “you’re missing the point”…

  • http://www.livejournal.com/users/jadeejf Beth

    This was a well-timed post. My husband is currently struggling with feeling lonely, and being unable to develop the kind of relationships with other Christian men that he desires. My only advice is to keep trying, but when other people don’t reciprocate, it’s hard to know how to encourage him.

    In a similar vein, we’ve been involved in many small groups over the years- they’ve often fallen apart or been restructured due to other peoples’ decisions. In a previous church, we begged our leadership not to split up our really good small group, but when they hired a new associate pastor/small group minister, they decided to restructure the small groups to be more reflective of the church and diverse age-wise. Good idea in theory, in practice, it broke up a thriving group and a good community. Other small groups have fallen apart due to moves because of jobs, etc.- how can you compensate for that?

    We stuck with one small group *after* all the SG members left our previous church, but eventually we all decided to go to different institutional churches, and couldn’t fully dive in to community at Bethany until we moved on and jumped in with both feet.

    What do you think of the idea that small groups should form spontaneously? I like it in theory, but in practice, Bethany is so large that I fear we’d never just spontaneously get to know any given person/couple well enough to say “Hey, we should have a Bible study.” But is there a way that doing that with friends who don’t go to Bethany could be encouraged through Bethany? Just a thought :)

    • raincitypastor

      Our philosophy is that small groups can be a platform from which intimate relationships can develop, but that intimate and interdependent relationships are ultimately the responsibility of people, not organizational structures. My wife and I have a few friends with whom we gather for supper once a month. We’ve slowly been building real relationships with these couples for nearly many years.

      I’d suggest that out from involvement in ministry or a small you, long term relationships have a great chance at developing, but only to the extent that we commit and become rooted in them. This takes time, and means swimming upstream against the tides of culture.

      • http://www.livejournal.com/users/jadeejf Beth

        Good point. I think my husband is just deeply desirous of those kind of intimate relationships and other people aren’t. It’s hard to develop intimacy one-sided :( I wish I knew better ways to encourage him.

  • Michael

    Thank you for those wonderful words, they have meaning for me. i am not an individual as some think, as a Native it is a whole in comminuity not just one.
    i think christians should look at the Native community b/c it is what you just wrote about. sharing with others and not the just the weak but will All.

    Thank you

  • http://www.rebeccajeanne.com Rebecca

    I was just talking with a gal in my small group (we attend a church in SE King County where we live) the other night about the importance of maintaining our group. The night we meet doesn’t always work for them but her husband has said many times, “But I like our small group. I like the guys. I don’t want to switch.” I love that our group has become so close that people don’t want to leave it. :)


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