This is the first in an Advent series of eight posts that will wind their way through Christine Pohl’s new book Living into Community: Cultivating Practices that Sustain Us (Eerdmans 2012 Buy now: Amazon // Kindle ). This book was chosen as The Englewood Review’s Book of the Year for 2012, and as I hope will become abundantly clear over the Advent season, it fits very well with what John and I have been describing as Slow Church.
[ Read an Excerpt of LIVING INTO COMMUNITY ]
Advent traditionally is a season of preparation and waiting for the coming of Christ, but in preparing for the coming of Christ, we are also waiting expectantly for the maturing of Christ’s Body, the Church, into the fullness of its stature (Eph 4:13). These themes of waiting for the maturity of Christ’s Body and at the same time, as members of church communities that embody Christ in a particular place, our calling is to be engaged in the long, slow process of preparing for this maturing. In her introduction to the book, Pohl notes that “Human beings were made for living in community, and it is in community that we flourish and become most fully human” (3). But at the same time, “Growing into the likeness of Christ and into the church as it’s supposed to be cannot be separated from the messiness and disappointments that are part of human relationships.” Our situation is thus that we have been called into community and we yearn for life together, and yet our church communities are immature.
Pohl uncovers the roots of our immaturity: “While we might want community, it is often community on its own terms, with easy entrances and exits, lots of choice and support, and minimal responsibilities. Mixed together, this is not a promising recipe for strong or lasting communities. … Our lives are knit together not so much by intense feeling as by shared history, tasks, commitments, stories and sacrifices” (4). It is therefore practices that hold our church communities together over time and through which we experience the healing and transforming grace of God. Pohl chooses to focus in Living into Community on a basic set of only four practices that are “central to community life and to God’s character” and undergird our life together: gratitude, promise-keeping, truth-telling and hospitality. Just as discipline and practice are essential to our maturing as individual — playing a musical instrument or a sport, for instance — so they also are important to our maturing as church communities.
Although the season often gets highjacked by the prevailing consumerism, Advent should be a season of slowing down ad reflecting. I invite you over the next few weeks to journey with me in reflecting on the health and maturity of our own church communities. As we await the Christmas celebration of Christ’s coming, let us consider together how well we are preparing for the coming of Christ in the midst of our church communities. Are we growing into practices that will help us mature together into his fullness? And if not, what are the impediments that are stunting our growth.