Occasionally there is a buzz word that dominates the conversation both in and out of the church. For years that word has been community. It is a simple word that describes people related by some common characteristic or purpose and yet it carries so much weight as a token of deep longing by rootless modern people.
I’ve been around church long enough to know what is the one-size-fits-all solution for creating community. Community groups! Or small groups or life groups or whatever other name a church devises for intentionally gathering people to begin to develop purposeful Christian friendships. It sounds alright as a concept but many of us know first hand how awkward these groups can be.
I mean, I know that Christians are called to live in community but does that really mean I have to wear something other than sweatpants, drive over to a stranger’s house, and smile awkwardly while trying to catch cookies crumbs in a cocktail napkin? A stilted conversation about the Bible between casual acquaintances doesn’t feel like the rosy vision of community that I find so compelling in the New Testament. I imagine myself with deep, meaningful friendships with people who share my burdens and speak wisdom into my life. Is meeting twice a month for an hour and a half with a few people whose names I am still learning going to accomplish that?
No, probably not, but it is the very first baby step towards rich community. We need community groups because our natural bonds between family, life-long friends, and neighbors are broken. We have forgotten what community feels like but, thankfully, we still desire it. We need to retrain ourselves in hospitality, mutuality, and spiritual friendship. In You Are What You Love Jamie Smith writes,
“Our love is like second nature: it directs and propels us, often under the radar of conscious awareness, like breathing and blinking. It also means that our loves acquire direction and orientation because we are immersed over time in practices and rituals—what we’ve called ‘liturgies’—that affectively and viscerally train our desires.”
We need rituals and habits to guide our love and reshape us into people who love showing hospitality and love being in intimate community. Community groups can be transformative if we make time and space for those relationships to grow and extend into the rest of life. It can be like a starter that is used to make a loaf of bread rise. Just a dab of the carefully nurtured starter is enough to make ordinary flour and water into a whole delicious, yeasty loaf of bread. But it doesn’t happen immediately and it must be nurtured and attended to in order to grow.
There is no such thing as instant community. I have been at Restoration longer than I have been anywhere in my whole life. For years there was always a new school or city or job but now I have clearly settled in here for the long haul. That is simultaneously a wonderful and terrifying truth! You get what you give in community. I’m years into friendships now with people I see constantly. And it gets difficult to be so well known. I have failed, asked for forgiveness, and begged people to please forget my embarrassing faults. But I have also been loved well, cared for, and allowed to change as we all learn life together.
There is no instant community. But now I know it is real and not just an urban legend. If you nurture it, if you establish habits to support it, and if you allow yourself to be changed by it you will find that your life is growing right in the middle of meaningful community. This season give a community group space in your life!