Who are my church and community? My answer no longer fits in a tidy box.
Losing 20-year friendships left me wondering about the facade of community we experienced in church. I lost my sense of purpose in being joined with other believers. Every seemingly important thing that we had spent our lives on was a pile of rubbish.
When we first started going to the new church, I tried connecting with the people there. They were friendly. However, it felt like attending someone else's family reunion or like dating someone you knew you weren't going to marry.
I don't blame them. I am the one who isn't willing to commit. I just can't muster up the desire to serve in church programs. Deeper commitment = Deeper relationships. To be honest, I am unwilling to spend my time playing that game now.
Is this my church? Are they my community?
Then our former church family showed up at the new church. Suddenly, after 2 years of silent loneliness, we were reconciled with our friends as they left the CLB. It is wonderful to be surrounded by family once again.
Now we are like an entire family attending someone else's family reunion. We have made ourselves at home in the new church. There is no denying the strong underlying connection among those who are former members of the CLB.
Is this my church? Are they my community? Are they only my church if we join the new club?
The following quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer has been posted on quite a few blogs this week. This is something that we experienced first hand.
The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together.
When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first the accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.
Our former church was a non-denominational church. It was a church family. Like most families, it wasn't perfect, but there was a depth of commitment and shared history.
When the church joined with the apostle, he came in with his visionary ideal of community. Much of the language sounded great - authentic community, shared life, one-anothering, etc. Here is a quote from his teaching.
"We are intentionally moving past Sunday morning religion or church toward building a community that flourishes through growing relationships with God and each other. The world will know that we are Christians by how we love one another. Community is the result of a commitment of the heart that we intentionally make to God and each other."
Sounds great, right?
It soon became obvious that his heavy-handed approach for creating ideal community was destroying the real community that already existed. He has driven away the majority of the families, accusing them of individualism and of being unwilling to commit to community. The following paragraph may give you a glimpse into why this approach to creating community is failing.
"The culture of our community is being built intentionally and can suffer harm by the intentional exertion of our selfish man. That old man within us must be brought into check continually by trusting the grace of God to empower us to change and by submitting to the body and the leaders that Christ has put into our lives. We must all willingly make ourselves accountable to kingdom rank and authority. Behavior contrary to the Kingdom of God cannot be overlooked at any level because it threatens the very life and security of the community we are building."
It is not exaggerating to say that this method has been disastrous and has created a culture of controlled conformity that is being held up as a model of true kingdom community.
What actually creates community among people? I don't believe attendance at a Sunday service automatically creates community.
An interesting thing among the former church members is that relationships of convenience are no longer taken for granted. People are intentionally pursuing fellowship with potlucks, dinners, and coffees. They have purposed to maintain their relationships outside of the club. Another interesting thing is that it seems that the relationships have become better in some ways. Former social divisions no longer seem to matter.
These are my people. It is so comfortable. Maybe it isn't supposed to be comfortable. Maybe I was supposed to find new people. Maybe I'm not supposed to have people. I don't know.
I do know that I don't trust Sunday morning church to provide community, and I don't trust people with plans for creating and organizing community.
Just don't ask me who my church or community is, because I don't know.