Do you really want community?


“Everyone says they want community and friendship. But mention accountability or commitment to people, and they run the other way.”  Tim Keller

The ever-quotable Tim Keller is rarely off the mark.  And what he points out here is important.  Our culture today is in many respects the most disjointed ever.  It is harder than ever to feel connected to others.  It is harder than ever to get together with friends.  It is harder to find belonging than ever.  And it is perhaps lonelier than ever.  All that creates desire for community.  But so often that desire goes unfulfilled.

One of my biggest gripes about pastoral work is community.  Everyone says they want it.  They complain they don’t have enough of it.  But then they don’t step into the opportunities for it when they are right in front of them.  Often, not always but often, it is those who appear to want/value/yearn for community who are least likely to enter into opportunities to have it when presented with them. It also could be that our ideas of ‘community’ are what Dietrich Bonhoeffer would call a ‘wish dream’ – that is, an ideal which destroys possibility for reality.

Community is hard.  And here are some of the things which keep us from entering into it.

We don’t always know what we want.  Part of my role is to organize community in some fashion.  Not saying I’m especially good at it but I do feel responsible for it.  Ask people what they want; they say ‘community’.  And then watch people behave in ways that keep them from entering it.  Or ignore their opportunities to have it.  The truth is, we always go after what we are really wanting.

We have other desires which keep us from community.  We value privacy.  We value autonomy.  We value our own time.  We value freedom of schedule.  We value lots of things which, when taken to extreme, run counter to real community.  And so in a very Jonathan-Edwards-type-of-way we’ll get what we’re really wanting most.  No matter how much we say we want ‘community’, we’ll receive something else.

There is a cost to community.  The Christian life offers the opportunity for shared life and togetherness that is unrivalled.  I didn’t know the meaning of true friendship until I became a Christian.  I realized my relationships with fellow believers were going to last forever in a real way.  But none of us enjoy the fullness of that.  Likely because the cost isn’t always paid.  Keller says:  “Everyone says they want community and friendship. But mention accountability or commitment to people, and they run the other way.”   He is pointing out that there is cost to entering into friendship, community, and in the context of Christian faith: true fellowship.  He could have added:

or mention the discipline of gathering…
or mention appropriate following of godly authority…
or mention sacrifice of other commitments…
or mention the forsaking of self-interest…

There is real community waiting to be enjoyed within God’s family.  We probably would say we want it but do we really?  Do we pay the cost?



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