The other day I had a conversation with a couple about the Called to Community sermon series. I asked what they thought about the idea of community and how they had personally experienced it. They were very encouraged by the sermon series and admitted that it was very timely in their own lives.
As the conversation was coming to an end, or what I thought was the end, one of them then said, “I guess, when it comes to community I’ve always expected a community to come to me. I’ve never thought I needed to be proactive in being a part of a community. That’s why we’ve never really felt settled in a community until now.” I was a bit shocked by her insightful statement. She went on to talk a little more about community and the struggles they’ve had in the past, but then she paused and redirected her thought and admitted how much work it takes to be a part of a community. She said all of this with a smile on her face and then concluded: “the hard work as all been worth it.”
This is the very thing Charles Moore talks about in chapter 13, “It Takes Work” from the book Called to Community. He points out that unless we are able to put forth the energy and get close to one another then we will never be a lasting community. He says,
How are we to ‘put up with each other’ unless we relate closely enough to get on each other’s nerves? How are we to forgive one another unless we are in each other’s lives enough to hurt and let one another down? How can we learn to submit to one another unless we struggle with differences? In other words, if we are to connect (or reconnect) our lives with one another, it will demand much more of us than we normally give. It demands that we become a church community, not just occasionally go to church or have community with others.
Charles is correct! Community is a nice ideal but if we are not willing to do the work it takes to forge an everyday committed life with others then our perception of what a community is distorted. It means we fundamentally approach community in the same way we shop for goods and services. It is impossible for someone who has the mindset of a consumer to understand what it takes to live in community. Moore continues to say, “One of the greatest misconceptions is that we believe that our lives are ours to do with it as we please and that our independence is more important than our involvement in whatever groups we happen to participate in, including the church.”
Allow me to say this, if you are intimidated by the work, in fear of being hurt by the community, I totally understand the hesitation. Give it time and you will find the opportunities to be welcomed in as you warm to community. However, if you are not interested in being a part of a community because you are not interested in putting forth the work that is needed, then I would challenge you to reflect and ask yourself, “Am I being selfish, for approaching communities this way?” Because the truth of the matter is, in all relationship, it is better to serve than to be served.