“The interest of the people of God in transmitting their faith will not be much greater than their interest in the Christian congregation in which they actually live out their faith” Miroslav Volf
I came across this great quote in a Resonate (GIA) magazine tonight and it inspired me to write some reflections.
Being in Christian community is not an option for disciples of Christ. I’ve said this many times because I think it needs to be heard and in the busy/slack world in which we live it sometimes becomes an option.
And by Christian community I don’t mean having a few Christian friends you catch up with occasionally and share a bit of life with. I mean being deeply committed to a local community of people some of whom you ‘click’ with and others who you don’t, some who are like you and some who are very different, but whom you choose to journey with anyway.
Our church is like our ‘family’ (actually biblically it is our family) and like most families there are those siblings and relatives who you have an easier time with than others. This community may change from time to time as we move geographically, but it will always be there in some shape or form. If its not then they were are missing a key element of our faith.
Caveat: I understand people transition for brief periods but personally I don’t see being out of community as having any biblical currency. Argue with me if you like…
But Volf’s quote is where all of this gets really challenging. I’m sure many of us have been in situations where our church community has been less than inspiring, where maybe we feel embarassed or even repelled by our own church. Volf is right that it is very hard to be inspired for mission if the community we are likely to lead people into is one which leaves us cold and disinterested. I know that was my experience as a teenager and has shaped much of my own ministry focus as an adult.
So what do you do?
Suck it up?
Be a change agent?
Well… option one isn’t going to be a long term solution. Unless you are a very patient person there is only so much ‘upsucking’ you can manage before you go insane. Opting out simply isn’t an option. (Seriously I put ‘sucking it up’ as 100 times better than just doing a runner.)
Not everyone can be a change agent and nor should they. Even those who can be, may not feel it is right to impose change on a community who may be blissfully unaware of their own cringeworthiness. But this is one valid option for people who simply don’t want to church hop. Stay around and make a difference. Be patient. Hard.
Then perhaps the other option is to start a new community. I think we have made this way easier than it sounds. On one hand it is easy – very easy. Anyone can gather a group of people, but that group can become as irrelevant as the original group unless there is a very strong sense of focus and clarity of vision. Starting something is not for everyone and brings a whole new set of challenges that can be bigger sometimes than changing an existing group. Try it and see…
But the fact remains that Christians only exist in community. There are no ‘solo’ disciples and nor should there be. However the challenge of being in a community that we can be proud of is a big one.
This is a post with no easy solutions. I don’t believe the answer is a monochrome church where ‘like people’ meet and hang out. The homogenous unit principle has some value in birthing new communitys, but overall I don’t see it as a healthy expression of the kingdom.
If I had to invest all my ‘church’ eggs in one basket I’d throw in the basket of being an exceptionally loving, gracious and accepting community – a place where people are genuinely free to be themselves and where grace is rich. I reckon real love trancends musical style, bad sermons and all the other things that make church hard at times.
These days I really don’t care much what we sing or what order we do things in, but I do care that I am part of a community that oozes love and grace. That’s a winner I reckon.