the work of community

Some years back we began an experiment.  What would it look like to create a community of people committed to each other and to the pursuit of an ever growing faith in Jesus.  After more than two decades of putting on weekly spiritual events, hearing an ever increasing clamoring for community, and feeling it crying out in our own hearts, we put our dream in motion.  We weren’t a completely unique community … in fact Seattle has become an incubator of sorts for such communities.  It was beautiful, it was messy, it was many things.  It wasn’t popular.  And our story again wasn’t unique.  Despite the analogous stories that are voiced and rumored throughout Christendom from the exodus of people claiming to seek the real and honest idea of community, these new communities continue to be small and struggling.  I’ve learned, and I could be accused of being jaded here, that this was and continues to be a scapegoat for people leaving.  At the risk of seeming to be over the edge, I call BS on it.  What I’ve discovered is that people have rightly identified the lacking of community in many churches and so they disconnect.  But not wanting to really do the hard work that comes with community, they never reconnect with anything else.  True community requires that we enter in to the tension of both knowing and being known.  True community takes work … we’ve been formed for it but we’ve been conditioned away from it.  We’ve been conditioned that spiritual growth comes through sermons, sound bytes, and 60 minutes even while our spirits cry out that this can’t be true.

Last week I wrote about the filters that we use when searching for a neighborhood to live into.  It’s the same concept.  Living into a place is both knowing and being known.  When the Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood he then entered into this knowing and being known.  Read the Gospels.  Jesus lived in that tension.  The attraction as well as the rejection of Jesus came from his knowing and being known … attractive to some, disturbing to others.  Practically none of us has a problem with the knowing piece … we want to know … we are all about knowing and being in each others business.  At the same time, practically all of us have a problem with being known.  Particularly when it comes to our faith journeys.  Church culture has created that.  Far too many churches cloak reality with smoke and mirrors and in the process they’ve made disciples … just not disciples of Jesus.  Churches are based for the most part on affinity… same cultures, same values, same economics.  True community crosses all of those and in the process it becomes messy and beautiful and complicated … it takes work.  It is where the fruit and the gifts of the Spirit are all worked on and worked out.  Real issues don’t resolve themselves within a 60 minute window on a Sunday morning.

Back in the day I can remember when the Church trying to be relevant sought to grab onto the theme of the TV series “Cheers” (Where everybody knows your name) and try to claim it as a value. It was a good start, but only half of the equation.  In our new neighborhood is a local pub.  Our brief exposure to it has given us a pretty good indication that there is some significant community to be experienced here.  This past week I noticed a T-shirt displayed for sale on the wall with the name of the bar and the tagline “where everybody knows your shame”.  Want to upend the culture of your church?  Want to really explore the tension or real community? Try putting that on the sign out front.

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