Community is a funny thing. In that God-totally-has-a-sense-of-humor-that-doesn’t-always-feel-funny funny way.
I think the idea of community has largely been romanticized beyond recognition by the modern church. We think of it is as this pretty shiny thing. A group of people who come together with all things in common; purpose, vision, communication style, interests, needs, habits, backgrounds…and they can all be themselves, and they will all consistently accept each other’s character flaws as merely a step in the journey, and no one will ever be offended or annoyed, and they will probably all hold hands and sing Kumbaya around a campfire at some point.
Which calls to mind the many moments during my teaching career that one of my students has made some adorably naive statement, and I’ve found myself tempted to chuckle aloud and respond, “That’s really cute. Silly, silly child.”
That’s how I often feel compelled to respond to idea of “community” that many people of faith harbor these days. Because let’s be honest. Community is HARD. There is nothing easy about it. If you put a group of human beings in the same place, there is going to be conflict. If that group of human beings is committed to transparency, there is going to be HUGE conflict. If that group of human beings is committed to transparency AND committed to not throwing their hands up and running out of the entire community bit…watch out.
People who are committed to authenticity and simultaneously committed to sticking around are a frightening group sometimes.
But I so long for the rest of the world to experience that feeling. That feeling that it’s okay for them to be themselves. It’s okay to be broken and fragile and incapable and emotionally stunted and completely neurotic. It’s okay to bring that to the table, and to LEAVE it there. And that okayness doesn’t mean that it’s going to be comfortable. In fact, it means the exact opposite of that. It means it’s going to be uncomfortable, it’s going to rub you the wrong way, and eventually someone’s going to bring something to the table that you don’t naturally appreciate.
But this crazy thing happens in this notion of community. At least community when community is as God intended it.
You can be uncomfortable and still stick around. You can be challenged and stretched and irritated and yet NOT MOVE. And when you do that, when you submit yourself to that kind of torturous authenticity…you automatically free other people up to be themselves, too. Which will likely also be uncomfortable and challenging and stretching and irritating.
I’m sure I’ve sold a lot of people on the idea of community by now.
But there is nothing more liberating than to go through that process and find yourselves on the other side. There is nothing like growing into a community that has been so fire-refined that you wake up to God’s reality–that it’s possible to share a purpose and a vision, to be completely and wholly yourself and completely and wholly accepted. To become a part of something that’s bigger than just you on your own, bigger than the sum of its parts.
There is nothing like growing into the dirty soil of God’s people. Nothing like it.