The Real Face of Christian Community

The Real Face of Christian Community December 26, 2011
Source: Todd Nappen | 2006 | Flickr

*The following is a guest post

Community … community … community. Everywhere you turn, inside and outside of the church, people are obsessed with talking about community.  This is a good thing insofar as it combats the individualistic tendencies of our society. When we stop thinking about the world as millions of autonomous selves and more as related parts, we are headed in the right direction.

However, the manner in which people discuss community consistently disappoints me. It is commonly left at a superficial level. You know, the sort of community that lasts the few hours of a weeknight gathering, endures for a weekend-long retreat or exists within online communities where people know little about one another’s everyday lives. The word community is used, but the reality being discussed lacks true depth.

More pointedly, I am coming to terms with the fact that community is not about people like me. It’s easy to be in community, or at least on congenial terms, with people who are similar to me: similar musical tastes, similar clothing tastes, similar discussion interests, similar stages of life, similar political leanings, similar biting critiques of other people.

This sort of community of sameness reminds me of Jesus’ powerful statement: “You will be greatly blessed when you love those comfortably like you.” Hmm. I think I may have just misquoted the Gospels. What Jesus really says is this: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

Look around the room when Jesus said this. There is Simon Peter, that abrasive and over-talkative attention-getter. And James and John, the glorious “Sons of Thunder” who constantly seemed concerned with getting the places close to Jesus. Good old Thomas, whose skepticism and “glass is half full” view of life could bring such a sour tone to things. And Simon the Zealot, who, after these many months together, still talked about Jesus starting a fiery political revolution. Not to mention everyone else, some of whom seem to skulk behind the scenes with little to say about anything. It’s a miracle that these 12 guys didn’t argue all of the time about everything … oh, that’s right, they did.

It’s interesting that they apparently changed the topic once Jesus emphasized this loving one another idea again. “You’ve said that before, and we already know about it,” they may have said. “Move on, Jesus. Give us some words about more exciting matters, like the end of the world.”

It’s sort of like us.

Look around the room next time you’re gathered with other followers of Jesus. See the different faces: some attractive, some homely, some happy, some depressed, some attentive, some distracted, some awake, some sleeping. Think about the person you just bumped into at the door whom you’ve never met beyond an awkward initial conversation.

Think about the person across the room you would rather not have to talk to, let alone see. Think about the people you’re glad you haven’t seen this time. Did I hear a sigh of relief?  If only Jesus had formed a community out of something other than ordinary, irritating, disagreeable, quirky people. Life would certainly have been easier for all of us. But also less true.  Community does not exist without quirkiness, disagreement, awkwardness and difference. We—all of us so different and distinct—are made one in Christ Jesus. Just as He held that rag-tag group of disciples together, He holds us together.

The ugly side of community is that we are repulsed by community in this more authentic way. More often than not, we sell out for a paltry and superficial community that is easy and romantic, not letting our dreaminess be interrupted by the reality of you and me being made one through the tough love of Christ.  His love is tough because it cost Him everything to make us one, and twice tough because it costs us everything to really love one another as a community.

Matt Erickson is the Senior Pastor at Eastbrook Church in Milwaukee, WI, and blogs regularly at <Renovate>:

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  • Joca4christ

    Great point! So how do we go beyond the superficial?

  • Erin

    I’ve wrestled with this concept for a long, long time. My passion is with youth. Having deep community with youth from all walks of life can seem impossible, if I’m not pulling my hair out by the roots! Yet a resounding theme that I am hearing from professing believing teenagers and nonbelievers is that they don’t want to be labelled as lazy, good-for-nothing texters that are ungrateful. In fact… they don’t want to wait until they are 18 or 21 to ‘change the world’. If we cannot provide community around them to nurture THEIR passion for community & life… what hope have they?

    To that end, I am working (slowly and impossibly it seems at times) to create an intentional community (yes, I know the term is also bandied about a fair bit too) for youth, especially at-risk youth. They come a live with those of us living a simple lifestyle, choosing to go deeper with one another, the world, and God, and see how they can translate this life into their home communities. The other portion of the community is creating safe sacred space for youth who have been exploited by the north american slave trade. Instead of seeing them as ‘victims’ first, they are ‘family first’ —  family who have been victimized. By altering the lens of how we see those of us around us — family, and not victims or addicts, etc — our focus suddenly shifts, and the need for community to deepen become enormous. 

    Like I said, slow and small but I pray it will become a community Christ had in mind when He chose the irksome and quirky.