I am a part of several Christian communities. I am a part time pastor for two different worshipping communities which have a total of six buildings between them. I am preaching at another Christian community during the winter shut down of one of the pastorates I work with. I also have some connections with the three congregations that my wife pastors. For an introvert who prefers books and writing, that is a lot of community.
But one of the vital parts of my ministry as a pastor has always been a commitment to building community. Because I have spent most of my time in the church as a pastor, I tend to approach this process differently than most people in the church–after all, I get to determine what people hear from the pulpit week after week and I get a fair amount of input into things like Bible Study topics and ministry plans and so on.
I use these opportunities to talk about community and building the community, among other things. But community really can’t be built simply by talking about it. Community, Christian community can only really be built as believers are willing to take the necessary risks that being a part of a caring community requires. No matter how much I teach, preach and encourage community, the kind of Christian community God had in mind for the church cannot develop until people are willing to open themselves up to the community.
There are two sides to that opening up. The easiest, of course, it to offer to the community our strengths and gifts and seek to build community by giving of ourselves. I am aware that is only easy in comparison with the other side of building community, which we will look at later. It can be difficult to offer ourselves to the community–there is the ever present danger that the community will not accept or appreciate what we have to offer.
Much of our experience with community is formed by communities outside the church. Our family is a community, as is school, work, neighbourhood, clubs–even the people we see and greet regularly during the course of living our lives are part of a community with us on some level. As we grow and develop, we discover some painful truths of community living, one of which is that communities are not always warm, friendly, caring places.
We get hurt, we get ignored, we get shut out, we may even get bullied. Many people learn to protect themselves by not getting too close to the community or by developing a small exclusive community within a larger community. All this means that by the time we are ready to be part of a church community, we have learned a lot of lessons about community, lessons which we bring with us and apply to the church.
If, like many people, we learn that communities can be somewhat dangerous, we approach the church with suspicion and stand near the exit, ready to bolt when things get tough. If we learn that communities can be uncaring, we don’t really offer much of ourselves to the church, occupying a pew but little else.
It is an unfortunate reality of life that most of us learn enough negative things about community that we tend not to be as open and giving to the church community as God seems to expect of us. This then creates a Christian community where everyone is there but there isn’t really any community.
So, part of building community is taking a risk–we need to take the risk of offering ourselves and our gifts to the community. We offer to give to the community what we have been given by God and nature so that the community can benefit and grow and develop. Rather that ignore community, we seek to build community by being free and generous with ourselves.
We face the risk of rejection, of being misunderstood, of being taken for granted, of being abused–but then again, I don’t think that God ever said that it would all be sunshine and roses, at least on this side of eternity. To build community, someone has to be willing to take the risk. Fortunately, the God who provides our salvation is also willing and able to provide the wisdom and courage we need to deal with the risks involved in giving our strengths to the community.
May the peace of God be with you.