If you’ve stepped inside an evangelical church in the last fifteen years, you’ve heard this word.
Each church has their own trendy name for community. Life Groups, Home Groups , Now Groups, Discipleship Groups, Circle Groups — we’ve led and participated in them all. What used to happen in classrooms on Sunday mornings has now been pushed to the outside as churches seek to renew a fading interest and commitment to the church, largely with youth and young adults. We have youth in our home and can attest to how different church life is now than it was when we were their ages. Attending church or church-related activities three or four times a week is unrealistic when you account for the pressing in that youth sports is having on families. This, coupled with the need to recover from years of shallow, disingenuous, seeker-friendly efforts where the focus was on wowing the audience and filling seats instead of making true disciples of Christ, has resulted in a rally around this idea of community. Provide opportunities for meaningful, deep relationships that draw in families and we can stop the hemorrhaging from our congregations.
When we moved a few years ago, we thought finding a church would be simple. Our small town has more than fifty churches! The odds were in our favor to find a place we all loved. It wasn’t that easy. We floundered for almost a year and in that time of indecision, I kept coming back to this place of unrest when it came to community. I understood the need for it, but my heart wanted no part of it.
Curtis says I’m less of an introvert than I claim to be. Wherever I fall in the extrovert/introvert continuum, I know that sometimes community irritates me. Sometimes I don’t want to get together with other believers; sometimes I don’t want to “do life together”. Sometimes I want to be left alone and sometimes I’m even convinced it would be easier that way.
Easier only until I humble myself and admit that I can’t do life alone. I’m self-sufficient, but I’m not that self-sufficient. I need other men to come alongside my husband as good role models for my boys. I need other women to show me how to broaden my ideals of motherhood. I need other couples to model imperfect, yet gracious, marriages that say, “We are sticking it out no matter what.” That side of community is easy for me to wrap my head around. I like benefiting from things.
There’s another side of community that stretches me. You can’t truly do life with people unless you’re willing to be vulnerable. Curtis and I disagree, my kids argue, I am selfish, Curtis is prideful, and we carry around some significant baggage. These things are easy to hide behind smiles and makeup and pretty clothes on Sunday mornings. They are less easily hidden on a week night after we’ve had taxing days at work and school.
We’ve been camping this weekend with our Gospel Community Group — nice name, I think. Last night, the kids went into one camper to watch a movie and the adults stayed outside to talk. We didn’t talk about the Bible or what Christ is doing in our lives. We didn’t invite camping neighbors over to our site to share the Good News with them. We didn’t even divulge deep, dark secrets about ourselves that only feel safe to share in the dark by the light of a campfire.
What we did was much more simple. We shared stories about life. Funny, embarrassing stories. Stories that would never come up in passing on a Sunday morning and stories that are only funny when you can strip away the pretense and the need to over-explain yourself. Stories that lay the fundamental groundwork for the more difficult things in life like admitting failure, confessing sin, and holding each other accountable.
Camping has a equalizing effect in relationships. The waking up hours are some of our most vulnerable…it’s hard to be impressive when you stumble out of a tent and look like you slept on the ground. Business owners, professors, well-known, less well-known, athletes, non-athletes, young, and old, removed from their everyday roles became humans with the same basic need — take care of me and I’ll take care of you.
This is the type of community I want. I want to see people as they really are. I want to see you with no makeup and in the same clothes you wore yesterday. I need space to be a little short-tempered with my kids or husband and not be judged. I need to be able to get frustrated and feel your soothing grace over my raw emotions. I need to see how you do life without feeling like maybe I can’t measure up to your level of awesomeness. And I need this not only for myself, but also for my kids. They will walk away from their faith if it’s not real to them, and of all the things that scare me about them leaving, this scares me the most. The truth and grace balance within community isn’t easy, but it is necessary in the process of nurturing young hearts that long for Him.
“This is what learning is. You suddenly understand something you’ve understood all your life, but in a new way.” – Doris Lessing (English writer)