When I try to discuss the status of organized church, the most prominent push back that I get from those that attend church is in the area of community. They will say to me, “But, we need community!” And, I will say, “I couldn’t agree more.” But, if we all agree that community is important, maybe it would be worth our time to go through an assessment and make sure we are all talking about the same thing and have a good understanding of what a good community looks like.
There are moments I remember quite vividly in the over two decades of church work. There was the time, early in my ministry where I reached out to a family in need and found my self performing the ceremony for 16-year-old boy that was killed in a car wreck. We got even closer that year when his cousin also died in a car wreck. I was instantly a part of their community, not by choice, but because of our circumstances. When you step back and analyze those experience, you only make one assessment, “That was extremely difficult, but it was also extremely rich and good and beautiful.”
In 20 years, I suppose I attended at least 20 graduations. I probably officiated 20 to 30 weddings and at least that many funerals. Especially in my first church, I was there for everything – the fish fries, the community Christmas parties, and the street dance that got me in trouble. At the second church, we cooked breakfast for the campers nearby and experienced a different kind of transient community – but, it was community none the less. Our last church was in Nebraska City where the big thing was the Applejack Festival. So, being a part of that community meant being in parades with the Christian motorcycle group and going to their meetings and trying to help meth addicts and homeless people get back on their feet. But more than anything, in all the churches, community meant responding to the needs of the people that came across the threshold of the church. It’s easier in the smaller church, but I don’t suppose the mission changes no matter how big the church is.
Why we need community.
We need community to advocate for each other. As communities grow that have similar interests, they gain confidence to speak up for each other. We want someone to “have our back” when we don’t have the energy or resources to fight for ourselves. Groups help gently educate each other about their personal challenges, so often members with similar interests often develop compassion for each other’s unique challenges.
This is what gave me the greatest joy as a pastor. Much like a family, when people were a part of our community, church or family, we felt a special need to get involved when we normally wouldn’t. Some of the people we advocated for admitted they were about to give up hope that they could overcome their situation. But, with community, everyone gains confidence to overcome challenges. It is the good kind of group think I suppose.
Not only do we speak up for those in our community, but we support and protect. Because the group gives us a sense of belonging, it becomes almost a requirement that we would give time and resources to the group and, if necessary, we defend and protect. The longer the relationship lasts, the stronger these bonds become. Even introverts appreciate a support system. This is especially helpful in times of struggle. I can’t tell you how many times we have cried with and counseled people in distress. Maybe, one of the toughest parts of going through a deconstruction is that my support system has been fragmented. Although, I’m building new community, it is a little less structured and maybe a little more fragile.
Hopefully, another advantage of community is that we grow in wisdom. As the group faces challenges, hopefully it learns from its successes and failures. It is beautiful to see a church or other organization that becomes better and better over time. I love to learn by myself, but ultimately wisdom is multiplied when we grow together. I think one reason for this is that we all see things differently. Community helps us see and hear and observe from multiple vantage points so that growth is optimal.
A few days ago, we did a live broadcast with several of our newest friends. We were talking about the issues the book Laura and I are writing. I was amazed and humbled by how these people from all walks of life and multiple situations could bring such depth to the conversation, while all showing the different vantage points their lives offered. One of the participants was talking about church and exclaimed, “This is my church – you people are my church!” What he meant is that this online community has become HIS community. It is supplying a necessary infusion of the support he needs while giving him a place to contribute. It’s community – pure and simple – even without the organization.
There’s more to come!
Part 2…The Dangers of Community
Karl and Laura
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