Churches talk quite a bit about community. Being a community, sharing community, living in community, growing as a community, authentic community. True community is worth pursuing. The early picture of the church is of a diverse yet united community, used powerfully by God.
Reality is a bit messier.
Several years ago, I participated in a small group that included:
• a 65-year-old woman who still struggled to make it as an artist
• a young 20-something, career-driven woman (occasionally absent when work took her to some exotic city)
• a 50-year-old ex-con with mental health issues
• his wheelchair-bound friend
• a young Indian couple
• a graduate of an Ivy League school
• a stay-at-home mom
. . . along with a few other assorted individuals.
It would be nice to say the gospel bound our conversations and prayers together in love and unity. Most evenings, conversation would bump and halt, bump and halt, as we tried to listen and understand each other. A few times it was downright awkward.
It was the Kingdom of God.
The gospel and Christian community is for ALL people, not just the people I feel comfortable with. Which is hard to make a reality. Because, if I’m honest, I would rather spend time with like-minded friends at a similar stage in life. People who get my jokes and music references. People who like the same books that I do. Fellow parents who will share child-rearing tips. I pretty regularly need child-rearing tips.
A friend’s church shares this mantra regularly as part of its small groups: you don’t have true community until there’s someone there who you wish wasn’t.
The beauty of the gospel is the way it brings people together in spite of their backgrounds. We are challenged to share life deeply with others who aren’t like us. Perhaps people we would never see in our daily work life. Perhaps friends we wouldn’t choose. People we wouldn’t hang out with if something larger than us didn’t tie us together. Jesus calls us beyond clubs to true community in His Kingdom.
Church leaders: when we talk about community, let’s make room at the table for at least one person who might feel excluded or on the outside. It may mean our worship services and small groups will deal with awkward moments as we learn to listen and eventually, love each other. Let’s challenge ourselves to prioritize love over comfort.
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