Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his classic book, Life Together, makes this observation that should be pondered by many in the church, especially those discontented with the relational dynamic in their particular congregation:
“The people most in love with community are in danger of destroying community.”
In other words, there are people who have made such an ideal of “Christian Community” that they are easily dissatisfied with the real thing.
No doubt there is much room for relational improvement in many churches – perhaps even most of them. But Bonhoeffer’s point is still valid. Sometimes it may be a “You” problem, or a “Me” problem, more than it is a “Them” problem.
Yet, as Brad Watson points out in an excellent short article for Gospel-Centered Discipleship, titled Our Hunger For Community:
“Broken families, broken relationships, and an epidemic of loneliness has created a ravenous hunger for community in this generation.”
This is true. And our churches and Christian communities must be aware of this hunger, and need to be prepared to provide such a haven for all who are seeking it. But Watson also points out a problem common to both those hungering for community and those who are anxious to provide it:
“But our flesh can seek our idea of community more than we seek Jesus. Our souls, it seems, are ready to settle for a sit-com style of friendship instead of striving for the spirit-led family of God purchased and created by his son’s death and resurrection.”
I think this is a very real issue. And I suspect this mindst feeds the discontent that Bonhoeffer warned about. When we put so too much weight on friendships, when our expectations of others is as heavy as what we should only expect of God, stress fractures are almost certain to eventually occur – and with them, emotional pain, and senses of disappointment and alienation, which often leads to difficulty of trusting others, with the ultimate consequence of inability to cultivate and sustain healthy relationships.
Those who want more than what Christ has established between us do not want Christian community. They are looking for some extraordinary experiences of community that were denied them elsewhere…Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial…Christian community is not an ideal we have to realize, but rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.
In response to this common concern about Christian community, Watson has noted 6 Misunderstanding of Community and suggests 7 Components of Gospel-centered Community.
6 Misunderstadnings of Commuinity
- Community is NOT “Everyone is My Best Friend”
- Community is NOY a Spiritual/Morality Club
- Community is NOT a Book Club
- Community is NOT a Meeting or Event
- Community is NOT Easy
- Community is NOT “Everyone Gets Along”
7 Components of Gospel-centered Community
- Generous Hospitality
- Influence Earned thru Serving
- Accountable & Repentant
- Led by Qualified Leaders
- On Mission
- Active in Culture
Whether you are one who is hungering for community that seems lacking, or one who is committed to cultivating community within your group or church, I hope you will give some thought to these premises; and benefit from Watson’s article: Our Hunger for Community