Everyone feels a need for community. We’re wired for it. God’s calling of people is for them to form a community called the Church. But ‘community’ is never meant to be an end in itself.
I’ve noticed that lots of Christians talk about it. They say they want it. Terms like ‘community’ and ‘relationship’ have become buzzwords but here’s the thing, those are never to be ends in themselves. There’s lots of talk about wanting more community, deeper community. Sometimes it’s tinged with the edge of complaint that there isn’t enough of what they’re desiring within God’s community. I’ve been a pastor for over five years now – I figure I’m almost half-way to arriving at a clue as to what I’m doing – but I have noticed something. People who most talk about ‘community’ and ‘relationship’ are often people who are least able to enjoy that which they already have. Not always but often enough that I’ve noticed. I’d doubt that observation to be accurate except that a far more holy and brilliant one has made it long before me…
In his wonderful little book, Life Together (a must read in my view), he shares how our expectations and ideals about Christian community can actually keep us from enjoying it.
One who wants more than what Christ has established does not want Christian brotherhood. He is looking for some extraordinary social experience which he has not found elsewhere; he is bringing muddled and impure desires into Christian brotherhood. Just at this point Christian brotherhood is threatened most often at the very start by the greatest danger of all, the danger of being poisoned at its root, the danger of confusing Christian brotherhood with some wishful idea of religious fellowship, of confounding the natural desire of the devout heart for community with the spiritual reality of Christian brotherhood. In Christian brotherhood everything depends on its being clear right from the beginning, first, that Christian brotherhood is not an ideal, but a divine reality. Second, that Christian brotherhood is a spiritual and not a psychic reality.
Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it has sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try and realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams.
-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, page 26.
Have you ever been disappointed with Church or ‘community’? Could it be because you’ve inadvertently brought your idealistic picture into the community that God has given you? Could it be because we have made ‘community’ an end in itself?
Tomorrow I’ll be reflecting on the true basis for Christian community (via Bonhoeffer). Stay tuned.