Saturday, August 30, 2008

Community

Pictured at right, the Agape Community in Brockton, MA.

“One thought about community: wherever you are, right now, look around and figure out how to love those who are with you. Don't think about how to attract them, convert them, save them, or change them. Think about how to love them. Then do it: Love them. Talk to them, care for them, help them, challenge them, laugh with them, pray with them, love them. …You will be in community.” - david

During our August meeting (see 8/27 post) we continued a conversation about how we do church and what Chrsitian community means. I was “saved” (thank God) and baptized at 13 at a local Independent Baptist Church here in Hollywood. Shortly afterwards, that church hosted what was billed as “the longest banana split in the world!” At 13 years old, I found the whole thing cheesy (and messy) and realized even then, it was a gratuitous attempt to get me to invite my 13 year old friends to get more of them “saved” and baptized. Today, I looked up this church (which I no longer attend) online. The chuch has re-packaged itself, but is now hosting a “Community Fun Fest - Come enjoy a fun filled day that includes a free International food court, live music, petting zoo, pony rides, bounce house, dunk tank, community displays, giveaways & more!”

“Community” in the Body of Christ has been one of the topics of late that holds a lot of interest for me. This is true especially since reading a book by one of Kathy’s religion professors at Trinity College titled, “Community – A Trinity of Models” by Frank G. Kirkpatrick. I want to understand how community happens in my own life, in my (broader) “church,” with friends and family, and in my neighborhood. On August 20, David Fitch posted, "When They Will Not Come - Community: The anti-attractional process of beginning a church with community.” Here are a few excerpts:

“’Community’ is an overused word in American churches. It is used to describe any number of ideas that all seem so elusive. And no one really knows what ‘it’ means. Has anyone ever seen community? Even with all this baggage, I firmly believe ‘community’ is a non-negotiable essential defining the very heart of what it means to be church in the world. We therefore must push for definition and concrete practices when it comes to community. ‘Community’ should be that much of a defining issue for we who seek to follow Christ and His Mission in the world.”


“I believe a host of problems in American evangelicalism originate in our disregard for community. Indeed, our hyped up attractional approach to church has put the individual first in such a way that community becomes an afterthought which creates problems for discipleship, catechesis of our children, as well as evangelism. We seek to draw the individual in, sell him/her a message, and then provide communities. Community by definition becomes commodified.”

“The church holds no special place as a community. It is but another social services agency or distributor of spiritual goods and services. As a result, there is nothing more oxymoronic than to try to ‘attract people to our church for its community.’ The question then is this, in a post Christendom context, with something so essential to the church as community, where do we start? How can we begin a community without first attracting people into it? What do you think?”


You can read the whole post, and comments, at: http://www.reclaimingthemission.com/2008/08/when-they-will-not-come-2-community_20.html


The comments are fascinating. Again, excerpts:
· "Church planters should work in a team, practicing and modeling community within their own relationships" – smokin joe
· “But I think what I am beginning to realize that community is about is relationships and those relationships are not always easy. There can be conflict within the community - so does that mean the community is not functioning properly? I don't believe so – that’s probably when things get real and authentic - when life is messy but grace, truth and love are present perhaps that is what community is about.” - esther
· “I can't help but be reminded of Bonhoeffer's work on this in ‘Life Together.’ Christian community originates, grows, draws it's life and is centered on Christ. Coming together to see, hear, speak, know, touch and fellowship with Christ in our midst is what makes a ‘Christ-community’ so unique. Are we growing in an intentional desire and practice to know Christ who comes to me and he thru me to my brother/sister?” - Mickey
· “… I feel that ‘authentic community’can only really be attained if and when preceded by ‘authentic cause’- the cause of Christ, of course. I think that is where it starts. How this cause is carried out may vary in different churches I guess, but I think that ultimately, CAUSE is what ‘attracts’ and brings people together in a way that will foster authentic community.” – Denise
· Or as Nate said, “If we are trying to avoid the whole bait-and-switch pitfall of the attractional model ("You should come here to get what you want...ok, now that you're here, it's really not about you."), don't we form missional communities by starting with mission?”
And I think “david” nailed it in the comment at the top of this post. I was actually looking for a comment that articulated his view.


My own take is that “church,” and “community” and the “Kingdom of God” are so intertwined, that the lines get blurred for me. This is even more so if you take into acount the missional aspect of church. The writer of Hebrews simply says, "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together...but let us encourage one another." My church community, then, becomes for me all the close friends who walk side by side with me on the journey with Christ, whether I see them on Sunday mornings or hopefully at other times as well. Church happens when we talk and joke and laugh and get serious 1:1 and in groups of 3 and 4 and 5 and 7. And church is when we have glorious conversations with wait staff in restaurants and with bartenders and co-workers and homeless people. And church is when we are intentional about finding ways to minister to the poor and disenfranchised in the name and in the cause of our savior. And church is being with our family in the park on a Sunday, and watching U2 in 3D and having conversations with friends who are not as far along on the journey as we are. And church is when we struggle at work every day with “administrivia,” but know that what we are doing is ultimately in some small way furthering the Mission of God. And church is reading and blogging and talking and doing and loving and confessing and celebrating and crying and praying and praising God every day.

This is not to say that one shouldn’t have that hour on Sunday and/or the hour on Wednesday, to gather with a local “congregation,” be it large or small, to “praise and worship” and preach and learn and fellowship and make it the best hour or two it can be. But never mistake those two hours, or that building, as defining the boundary of “church.” When you keep that in mind you’ll take a lot of pressure off that hour or two as being the “be-all and end-all” of church and community and see it instead revealed more and more as part of our day-to-day, hour-by-hour, “eternal kind of life” in Christ.


How do you define “Christian Community”?

- Steve

3 comments:

Robin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Robin S. Martin Jr. said...

Wow...you saved the best for last. It has been a wonderful journey of faith to see your (our) church walls expand and blur.

I am moved by God's presence and His interaction when those seeking Him gather together. Thank you for being a part of that...

Robin S. Martin Jr. said...

I accidently set up two accounts...this is the one I want to us. It has the cool picture. :)