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The Problem of Community


#1

Most people who write me seek a community already around them that they can join. If this chapter hold some truth and community is the fruit of relationships that share new creation priorities, then we would stop looking for groups and instead learn to live in his love personally and out of it to the people we know and those that cross our paths. Where others are doing that near me his community will manifest; where others don’t, I still get to love them however he asks me to.

That explains why any attempt at community fashioned out of group dynamics and expectations will always blow up in the long run. If people aren’t learning to live in God’s kind of love, community won’t happen. “(It) will happen as you grow more confident in his love and more aware of his purpose in things that surround you.”

This is less a question than an invitation into a dialog. It would seem then that our focus would be more on finding our way into his love and encouraging others to do the same (discipleship) than it would be on forming and managing fellowship groups. But that’s hard for people who want to find community externally with others before they find it internally with him.

Thoughts?

Wayne Jacobsen in Thousand Oaks, CA


#2

Because we have been programmed all our lives to find “church” in groups, that’s what comes naturally. It’s such a mind-bender to realize that Church is apart from any man-made, man-organized group. After leaving organized, traditional services, I still had the drive to find a group, so I tried a couple Bible study groups, but they just left me cold, again, so I finally gave up. And the whole realization that I just didn’t “fit” anymore was, to me, disturbing, because I had been raised to believe the typical- you have to attend a group or you’re not really in God’s will. I had it so thoroughly drummed into my head that fellowship HAD to be in a group, in a building, at a planned meeting, that I couldn’t see past that for a long time. They all claim that you’ll just shrivel up and die spiritually without that weekly “shot” of fellowship!

I think I saw in your book somewhere a reference to detoxing from religion, and that’s so very true. I have likened the whole process to a wilderness experience where you just simply learn to love your God apart from religion. Years ago, while I was in all these dysfunctional groups, I was drawn to scriptures that speak of false prophets, apostles, etc, and to the whole stumbling block concept. After coming out of several messed up churches, and the last one clearly abusive, I can now see the application so very clearly. It was like God was preparing me to understand what happened in there. Religion is THE stumbling block, in my opinion anyway, and religion is so very easy to fall into in a group. I guess I can now say I’m allergic to groups for that reason! Man-made structure is such a trap! And abusive churches take it to the extreme. In my opinion, abusive churches are traditional structures gone to seed. I can’t tell you how glad I am I found this book. It has absolutely set me free.


#3

Wayne, everything in me wants to respond, but it’s not easy. I’m stuck between what would suit me just fine and what kind of responsibility I have to others.

Looking inward, it’s not so hard. I could enjoy coffee with Jesus’ Spirit and few like-hearted souls and be just fine. We’d have the Word. Pray together. Let the Spirit lead. And I do mean “lead.” “Lead” can cover a lot of territory. I would expect that we’d have each others backs. Cut each other some slack. God isn’t standing by to hand out demerits, so we don’t have to, either.

But there is this missionary urge that won’t go away. Where doesn’t matter anymore. We have rural communities across the US with virtually no viable witness. While many of the sad churches I have seen are in decline for good reason and would be better off shut down, there isn’t much on the rise, either. I don’t care for the “movement” stuff; don’t buy into planting churches like building new car dealerships and fast food franchises or opening rodeo arenas in cowboy churches to attract the amateurs. The whole attractional thing is bad. If Jesus isn’t enough, well, don’t use poor substitutes.

But I’m not opposed to encouraging a loosely not-so-organized group that met together for preaching/teaching, singing, and prayer. Highly participatory. [Or maybe I’m thinking about rehab for former church members. I’m not kidding, people believe anything these days. It’s scary.] . . . . . . . We are told to make disciples. I know that is more than simply dumping information into their heads, but you have to start someplace. Help folks learn to read the Bible and interpret it for themselves. I’m content with burying Sunday School; if I had to endure that to be a good church member I’d rather be known as a heretic. Help people get a hold on the basics all new believers need to know and set them free to practice. Sermons don’t have to be lecture series. Sing together, that’s good. A time for everybody to share what the Lord has been showing them in life and the Word. Learn to pray for one another at the gut level. Share a long relaxed meal together. But that’s it. No classes,no big staff, no big building, no committees, no by-laws, no $5,000 convection oven. Meet in a rented hall if you have to. But keep it simple. Agree from meeting to meeting when the next meeting would be - or not. People who agree about getting together can get together; people who don’t can go do something different. If things go well, resist all temptations to call it a movement. Don’t hold seminars and teach other people to do like we do. But even when three people get together life can get complicated. . . . . .Are you laughing??? I know that community is not the same as how you meet, but if people are going to get together in a group you need a little planning. Even a party requires a little planning.

I’ve tried to imagine what 1 Corinthians 14 looked like. I don’t think it was the super-managed organizations we have now. Personally, I’m ready for something different. My dear husband is content for now with the we-can-serve-even-if-it’s-teaching-third-grade-Sunday-School mode, and he can do it and be wonderful. As I look through church websites and try to imagine being a “member,” spelled m-a-n-a-g-e-d person who fits their mold, I just can’t stand it. I can’t spend the rest of my life being that. Don’t need other people deciding how to meet my needs and plan my activities for my age group. Can’t sit through twaddle and attendance campaigns, etc., etc. And I don’t like all those video series produced for women. What a racket! See, I’m not nice. I want to be part of a genuine community of Christians who love each other and who would love me, too, but I don’t think it’s possible. I know that after six weeks in a new church the new is worn off and it’s old hat from there on out. How are you this morning? Fine. And you? Just fine.

I’m thinking maybe a community has to be small enough that everybody gets a shot at being a wheel or a cog. If you have to manage the party, you don’t have community. I think a pastor in a real community would be a person who helps everybody be the best wheel/cog they can be in the whole community. Something like that. That’s what I like to do. I think that’s what God called me to do. I just figured that out.


#4

In my opinion, attempts at finding community in a group seem to fall flat, unless people get to know Gods love, and learn what it is to live by faith instead of self-effort. I have seen the problems that arise from the lack of understanding those 2 things in IC’s (both traditional and contemporary), as well as in House Church and Organic Church.

Unfortunately, I think a lot of us, that, have tried to share these things, seem to only encounter hostility when we share them. So we are left with only 1 option, which is to try to show love in the way we treat others. In my case, even if I share Gods love in the way I treat others, it still seems to be extremely rare to find anyone that wants to have fellowship with me.

Maybe I’m missing something, or maybe I’m overthinking things, but I’m open to discussion on the matter.

Lenny
Bailey, NC


#5

I’ve only met one person in the last five years who thought “there ought to be more to church” than she was experiencing. The rest were content to “keep it going,” even when nothing was really accomplished. Activity, but no Jesus. Part of the trouble may be that very few Americans have ever experienced real community in “church” since WWII so members now don’t have any frame of reference. Friendships were more often due to relationships outside church. We’ve been forced to think about numerical growth without which we were failures, both as pastors and as whole churches.

When I lived overseas we were more dependent on one another all week long, so we tended to do a better job of looking after each other. There was no demand to grow, grow, grow. Our fellowship was because of Christ. We weren’t sloppy about what we believed (in fact, people actually carried and used their Bibles), but we seldom knew one another’s denominational affiliations. Coming home was awful. Church is a very lonely place, not warm groups. Superficial for the most part. There have been a few exceptions, but even those have their limitations.


#6

Haha guilty as charged your honour… Yes I wrote to Wayne asking if he knew anyone near me. The reply was not surprising, here’s a little of it

Sounds like you’re on a marvellous journey. I know it can be lonely and painful at times, but your eyes are being opened to his reality and it is so much better than wasting time jumping through hoops that God has not required of you.

He went on to say he did know some people but there was a better way,

I think Father is one that best arranges the connections he wants for us. I know we want to find people quickly to replace what we’ve lost, but he wants to bring people into our lives more organically as we just simply learn to live in his love and love the folks he puts in front of us each day. The ‘need’ for fellowship can actually be a deterrent to it, not only in seeing the doors God opens, but in distorting the relationship with need before it simply becomes a friendship. Father knows what you need and knows how and when to bring those reality into our lives. I’m sure there are lots of folks around you to love and take an interest in.

I am convinced that it is the Spirit who sets people in the church has he desires. He knows the people in your area he wants you to walk with and when best to bring you together. I’d encourage you not to look so much for a group, but simply live in the reality of his love each day and love those he puts before you, even unbelievers, without trying to convince them to believe what you believe. Soon you’ll find yourself in some interesting conversations about Jesus and in time surrounded with other folks on this journey. They may already be in some grouping or they may not, but I am convinced the body grows by ever-expanding relationships that may gather as a group, rather than trying to find a group that believes what you do.

Wayne I hope you don’t mind me sharing your wonderful words here but I felt it best explains how I am doing it.

When I read this I really felt it was a message straight from the Spirit to my inbox, funny thing is that having tried to make my own community I still come back to the fact that Father is the one that will best arrange my connections so I have and am leaving it up to Him now. I do sometimes get negative thoughts like you really need to be making disciples and doing something for God. I answer “I am doing something, sitting in His wonderful presence and if He needs something from me I will know”. Gosh he managed to get me to say Yes to His first nudge that He was at the door of my heart and I opened the door. I did one thing right and many things wrong after that. Now that I have finally stopped running here and there, only now is God able to unravel the mess in my thoughts and re-write my thinking to His ways. It is an awesome process one that I am starting to see my trust grow in Him. I also marvel at the fact that no human is involved just God.
Could I have it all wrong however I feel God is big enough to change my path one way or the other. However I have a peace and that is comfort enough. When I am out and about I simple try to offer a kind word or help where I get to talking to people. I have had a few interesting conversations spring up one of which is fresh. It was with a Polish chap who runs the management side of a gym I attend, he simple said he was off to do some writing. “What you writing?” I asked.
“A book.” he answered.
“What sort of book?” I queried
"It’s an sort of biography about a Atheist growing up in Orthodox Poland".
Oh boy the bells went off, for me! We spoke for about an hour. At the end he turned and said some great words that left me feeling somewhat encouraged.
"You are the first believing person I have spoken to that hasn’t tried to get me to turn from my ways and make me feel condemned with what I am doing. So much so that I saw something that was more than you and I like what you said about God being a loving Father we must talk again."
I have seen this chap a few times after that but he has not offered a route back to that conversation and nor have I felt it was for me to initiate.
God will bring that back to life if it is his will to, and that for me is change as I would of hounded the poor chap to the brink of death before…


#7

Ian, thanks for that! Set off a few bells in my head early this morning. Guess I’m at the schizophrenic stage right now. I’m deeply concerned about the people we were forced to leave, but I feel so right about this way I read about here. I know we can’t engineer God’s work. Was just pacing through the kitchen waiting for the waffles to pop and trying to put a finger on what aggravates me about the way our last church is carrying on now. It’s like a variety show, that’s what it is. A little of this and a little of that. Anything to get people’s attention. Have to sucker folks in with a touring band, and THEN you hit them with the good stuff. That’s not honest, and the motives are certainly mixed. I keep wondering what that says about the gospel – it’s like putting it on par with the loss leaders on end-caps at the grocery store. Gotta’ dress up Jesus to make him look better? They aren’t going to change (short of a true spiritual awakening), and we’d have to live in survival mode to endure their understanding of church. So that’s that, I suppose. We are expendable because we don’t want to manage a carnival and keep everybody happy, happy. What they want to do doesn’t work for them, has NEVER worked for them, and we get to be the scapegoat. I always feel sorry for coaches who get fired. . . . . . . . Maybe the gym manager is looking for the next opening without looking too interested. Enjoy being a fisher of men. Cool.


#8

I share the same struggles, Beth. I have really only found genuine community in smaller settings. I have a hard time with larger group settings like women’s retreats unless I focus on the relationships right around me (the trees, not the forest, I guess…) Yet, it seems to me that we need some kind of ‘meeting together’ to grow each other. Right now, a friend of mine and I are meeting with a new believer who asked for help in growing in her faith. What an awesome privilege to share together, pray together, study together. I have loved Wayne’s ideas about growing in our relationship with our Father first and foremost, so that His love is part of our daily living as we allow Him to use the circumstances around us. I love Ian’s story about the conversation with the Polish man at the gym and Wayne’s story about his conversation with the atheist on the plane. I love allowing the Holy Spirit to guide me day by day and I have especially loved giving up performance-based Christ-following. I know that for right now, small groups are part of my growth and accountability. [quote=“Beth, post:3, topic:231”]
Help people get a hold on the basics all new believers need to know and set them free to practice.
[/quote]

I think this is something we all need! We need to remember the basics and be free to practice—and to share our journeys with each other. I love reading and re-reading the gospels to consider how God in human form revealed His very nature to us and desires to impart that nature to each of us. We can get so bogged down in so many ways. I need community. Close relationships stretch me and free me. The key is, perhaps, being attuned to God’s leading us to that community which He has for us, which can and does change, even on a daily basis?


#9

bpenn, I appreciate your comments. I suppose we tend to think that we might accomplish more when we have a larger group, but it was always a struggle in “church.” We were never sure that anything resembling real discipleship was ever accomplished in anyone’s life. Maybe the mass movement approach is an attempt to get all we can and leave no one out – out of fear? Can’t say that it has worked so well, though. You and your friend are probably making a bigger difference in the life of the one new believer than I’ve seen in the last five years of an IC. Hmmm. . . . . . . Sounds like the three of you are having a good time together! May I be envious and sin not? . . . . Beth


#10

Just had an unsettling thought. If all that is proposed here by way of Church/community is right-on, what becomes of our notions of theological education? Like, can you dissect Acts and Ephesians in a class setting (not what I’d call community) without living it out together? I was already having second thoughts about theological education that is divorced from pastors actively working in the churches, but this whole discussion is sort of booting things to another level. Do you know what I mean? Do you mind if I ask that here?


#11

Beth, I love your heart for your town and your hunger for community. I do think every place in the world has a church presence if there are believers there simply to love and care for others. How that looks can take many forms. I have no problem with those who gather in a facility and seek to use it as a place to equip others and share community. There’s lots of ways that can be done without building the machinery that needs to be managed often at the expense of the Gospel.

Community can take lots of forms, and I’ve seen them all over the world. One group in South Africa used to go for walks on Sunday mornings, inviting their friends to a state park and taking a mile or two walk and then come back to the cars and cook breakfast and sit and fellowship. They would talk about Jesus together and even had atheists who enjoyed coming to see their life together and share some of their spirituals hungers. Others may have Bible studies, concerts, a way to help equip new followers, outreaches to people in need. The possibilities are limitless if we keep Jesus’ kind of community at the heart of it and share however he might lead us to do that. I’m not against organized or regular things, just make sure that life inhabits them and when the form outlives its usefulness you let it go rather than prop it up.

But never underestimate the power of a Jesus follower or two living among the world expressing the life of Jesus. That’s probably more powerful a presence than a Sunday morning building on the corner…


#12

Beth, I still put great value on my theological education and live out of its resources every day. I like your idea of it happening more in community, however, as many mission groups have done rather than in a strictly academic setting. And I always thought it would be more valuable if we saw that as people who are trained with more theological tools would share those tools with others, rather than just impress them with their “special knowledge”. And I think it far better done with someone in their late 30s and 40s after they’ve already lived out this life in their family and city and then the community send them to get training to enrich them all. It’s warped a bit when we take people fresh out of high school and make them “pastors” out of an academic setting before they have had any life experience.

And this same education can be apprenticed, as Jesus did it. He didn’t start a school for his disciples, but walked with them for a few years until they learned not how to teach about it, but how to live it. That’s far more effective, obviously.


#13

This made me smile! It’s interesting to note that the three of us came together because our church sets up mentors for engaged couples…and so a mature Christian couple met this couple (guy on fire for Christ, girl just beginning her journey) and she asked for more. I was invited into this and absolutely love it. But it came about because of an outreach of our local body. So many of my opportunities do. So I am at a place of just daily asking…what next, Lord?

–Bobbe


#14

Biggest cause of congestion in “church.” You got that.


#15

I ran across this quote in my personal reading in the book “Eager to Love” By Richard Rohr and wanted to share it. Here it is: “Yearning for a new way will not produce it. Only ending the old way can do that. You cannot hold onto the old, all the while declaring that you want something new. The old will defy the new, The old will deny the new, The old will decry the new. There is only one way to bring in the new. You must make room for it.”— Neale Donald Walsch. At the end of chapter seven in Finding Church, Wayne says “Participating in the new creation is an invitation to all, but never a demand. You can live in the old if you want. God will still love you and make himself known to you, but his desire will be to win you into his love so that you can enter the more spacious place your heart desires.” My wife and I recently made the move and left the IC we were attending and we both have had conversations with people who say they miss us and we have found it hard to explain to them where we are at and how we arrived at this decision. It seems abrupt to many around us, but we have been longing and our hearts have desired something more for a long time. This quote I found helped to confirm to us that we are on the path God wants us on and we are praying and waiting in anticipation for where this is heading. Its exciting to be walking with God and facing unknown territory as He leads us and as we learn to trust Him in new ways.


#16

Beth,
Your words made me laugh but only in the way that they are exactly how I feel. “Enduring Sunday school”, “share a long relaxed meal”, “membership” (major red flag to me), “the video series produced for women” this was the best one and where I laughed the hardest. I have said this so many times. The final church I attended did small group video series. The majority of them. Hated the thought. I am a stay at home mom with kids in college and high school. They are gone many times and so I spend much of my time alone. If I’m going to gather with others I want good old-fashioned conversation. Never mind the fact that these video series are just stupid. Everyone does need to be an actual part of the group. I think it is important that participation stems from each person feeling spiritually safe and able to join in when they feel led and want to. Not because someone is breathing over them and adding a bunch of crap to their lives. When a person feels loved and accepted and knows they can bring their deepest wrestlings to you then that’s where bonds form. “I have wondered the same thing,” “I am struggling with understanding that,” “I wonder if God is like this…” One person doesn’t have all the answers despite what the religious leaders portray. Perhaps it’s finding the marginalized and forgotten and having something grow from there. I do struggle with a community issue where I live. I have nice neighbors but it doesn’t go past the polite hellos and just the daily living next to one another. They are all seeped in the religious performance. I am glad for peaceful neighbors but this isn’t where deep community will happen. Not on a spiritual level. They just reiterate all the lingo they have been seeped in. It can be a very lonely experience. I have come a long way in contentment. I have learned to be alone and I find ways to be creative. I have one friend in town here who I am able to share things with. She has come to the same place I have. So at least there is one person by me. I think deep in my heart is this desire for a long table with people gathered around and we can all just talk. No one crushes another for thinking differently. We love one another and eat great food. On two occasions I was invited to a gathering at a home and these were perfect strangers. It was amazing how quickly and by the end of the day we could all talk freely with one another. I loved hearing from all the people who came from all different places. I still have no idea what God is doing. I do feel like I should have that group and do that thing. That feeling is getting smaller but I just don’t want to miss God and what He is doing.


#17

I’m so glad you have a friend there in town. Sure helps to sort things out when you have a live girlfriend right there to talk it all out with!!

I’m having a hard time putting words to all this. You know how it goes, just trying to make sense of things that really don’t make sense. I told my husband this morning, I feel like we have wound up someplace very different from where we started. The longer we tried to sort out church and make sense of it, the further we were sucked into the mess. All I can think of is words like train wreck, derailed, quicksand, paralyzed, etc. Not a good time for a Rorshach test, huh? LOL

And I’m a homeschooling mom, too. College and still home!


#18

In sports, the coach is the scapegoat. The coach gets fired if the team isn’t bringing home victories. The coach is responsible. I have often wondered "WHY?. Where is the responsibility for the players? Why fire the coach?

Then I look at the system I grew up with in the IC. The congregation gets to stay… the pastor is the one who has to uproot and leave the family. It still makes no more sense. You were right. Life is about looking for someone else to blame and lay guilt on. We seem to do it in every aspect of life. But I don’t think it makes it right or helpful.

Beth… I remember there was some response from a few people I had connected with after the “crisis”… that even when a pastor has an affair, it “shouldn’t” mean an automatic dismissal. Some felt that we wouldn’t oust a member in the same circumstance, but we wouldn’t think twice to take out the “coach”. Those voices were never heard. The coach got kicked out.

What is ironic… they invited the woman back with her husband. What made it okay for her to return?

This to me is the “Problem of a Community”. We put all the responsibility on one guy to be the role model for the group. When he falls from his horse, we are shattered because it was our choice and trust to put him into that position.

Maybe looking at community as a collection of broken people that are there to love each other through and out of our brokenness is a much more desirable picture for me. I just don’t know if it is real. Seems like there is a good reason Jesus called us sheep. We just forgot that he also called himself the Good Shepherd. We have put people in positions in our lives where Jesus has always wanted to dwell. We are stupid sheep. We have access to the best Shepherd and we have gone after other sheep to fill a role that only he can fill.

Ruby from Calmar, Alberta


#19

That’s a mouthful! Yep!

I don’t think the IC is going away any time soon, so I still think about better ways to address the weaknesses and open the way for genuine relationship. It’s just awfully hard to turn things around because the IC way of thinking is so ingrained. I fight it all the time. I thought one thing at home but had to respond to the congregations way of thinking at church. Sometimes I felt downright schizophrenic. And my husband still leans toward IC, so we have to deal with things best we can.

Still prefer the smaller churches, but I’m so tired of getting beat up in them! As long as culture trumps Kingdom, they aren’t going to be real safe places. I talked to a person who worked in conflict negotiation in churches. He said all his work was in small ones; he never had calls from big churches. Conflict resolution is almost impossible. In a small church all it takes is one person to bring everything down; that person does not get lost in the crowd. But I’ve been thinking about ways we could take a few cues from more communal cultures. Needs more thought before I trot it out, though.

Sin and restoration! Whew! Dealing with those takes some clear-headed thinking and maturity. Not much of that running around in most ICs, either. I have seen first-hand what happens in a congregation when the pastor has an affair, particularly if he is unrepentant and leaves a trail behind him. It would have been better if he’d robbed a bank or stolen a car. Really. Tears the church up long after he is gone, especially if the remaining spouses are still in the church. They become a constant reminder of what happened even though they were not at fault. He has violated a trust in at least two directions. He needs help, and he should get it if he’ll accept it. But the church needs healing, too. (We followed such a mess, and the church took their anger out on us because the former pastor was not there to target. Talk about scapegoat!) I can’t imagine what it would be like to try to heal a marriage and pastor a church at the same time. The pastorate is stressful even under the best conditions. Big fishbowl. What pleases one person may offend the next. And, yes, they do rather unfairly put a pastor up on a pedestal. Sometimes I think they just want somebody to knock off! They seldom let you really be one of them. One minister said they just want professional friends - there for them when they want him but otherwise out of their way. That’s about right. Kinda’ hard to build relationships in an atmosphere like that, huh?

It’s a mess. But I think you are sure right about looking to The Shepherd.

Cindy
Texas


#20

Oh no Beth, you had me until you nixed the convection oven. What would the body of Christ do without it? LOL!! Kidding aside this is exactly what my husband and I have envisioned the gathering of His people would look like if we just allowed Him to lead us. Yes we need to share with new believers some basic understanding of what Jesus taught and then we just walk beside them in life and through every day experiences. There really isn’t a real need to “sermonize” if we’re living out the Gospel message. I’d love to see mentoring brought back into the mix or “One Anothering” the new buzz word for sharing true kingdom living. Sing together, share what Father’s been showing us and yes Beth, pray together and for one another. Finished off with breaking bread together and it’s not that complicated. My husband says meeting in a tent would suffice for him.

I think most of us here get that it’s not about the stuff or the committees or the meeting places. It’s about sharing the love we receive from Him with others. What hinders us from living a life of complete freedom in Christ is that too often we have not fully realized and accepted that His love is ALL we need. We feel alone and want connection with others because we want to feel loved and cared for and validated and people have felt this way since the beginning in the garden when man became separated from God due to sin. Adam and Eve had no needs period. It was after the fall that man now needed to feel loved. So if we’d only reread our Sunday School lessons we’d remember that sin was conquered, Jesus paid our debt and the veil was lifted. We have everything we need to live out our momentary time here. Once we live truly knowing we are truly loved we wouldn’t always be seeking out love in other places or other ways.

Yes we are called to live in community. The Trinity is the divine representation of relational living. Fellowship is vital for growth and companionship and yes even accountability if it’s done with a truly pure heart. But if our main purpose in seeking out community is to find and receive love we will at some point be disappointed. But, if we have hearts that are overflowing with His love then there’s more than enough to give some away and we’d be walking out relational community as was His design for us.