Becoming a Community Diagnostician

A formative book for me has been “Life Together” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  It painted a breathtaking vision of community that has been lodged in my mind for the last decade.   As a church planter though, I quickly realized how un-sexy the process of shaping and sustaining Missional-Community is in contrast to the surreal vision swirling around in my head. Here’s a promise: the romanticism around this burgeoning approach to church planting will soon fade under the real hands-on work of cultivating routine community. I’ve journeyed through a “crashing-to-earth-process” after detoxing from years of devouring leadership books combined with reading stories of modern monastic communities, realizing people are not pieces to be used for my preferred utopian dreams.  Our pictures of perfection need to be grounded and humbled.  Idealism can be the un-verbalized fuel for disappointment surrounding the concept of community. 

The Fragility of Community
It’s tempting to talk about community in abstract terms but when practiced those abstract ideals have very little traction.  The disarming reality around fostering community is the ever present vulnerability and fragility of it.  My observance is that maintaining vibrant community is even harder than active missionality.  Christine D. Pohl said in a recent lecture “this truth may be the ingrown effects of our culture’s emphasis on personal freedom, self-fulfillment, easy exits, and lots of choices with minimal responsibilities.”  In the ordinariness of community, we are exposed in our subtle resistance to form genuine bonds of love with people who: like Romney when you like Obama or have an outgoing personality when you’re introverted or work a white collar job when you work at a coffee shop or are married with kids when you’re still single or like liturgy when you like contemporary or are artsy-fartsy when you’re pragmatic… and the list goes on.  You will acutely discover that the chemistry of community is always under assault from our easily offended and narcissistic human nature that would rather hide from people or coalesce with people just like us.

Nurturing a Family
A core challenge in sustaining community is the effort of nurturing a healthy spiritual family.  Buildings, budgets, programs and worship services must take a back seat to the ethos of community.  I believe the church of the future will be in some shape or form a Missional-Community that is working from the margins in our society.  I look forward to this new horizon.  I believe our church expressions need to be stripped of their noise and clutter in order to construct a “togetherness” that testifies to the Kingdom way of life.  Embodied relational transformation in a Jesus Community will be the new apologetic in our civilization. The credibility of the Gospel of Jesus is explicitly tethered to the quality of our practical and emotional collective life. (1 Cor 12,13, Matt 5-7)
Gardening the Soil 
It becomes essential in this new territory to develop into “Community Diagnosticians”.  This has been by far what has morphed the most in my pastoral approach. There needs to be an intentional leadership re-framing from “Platform Preacher” to “Community Cultivator” or “Program Builder” to “Community Developer.”  Tim Gombis a professor at Grand Rapids Seminary has an appropriate blog post on viewing the Apostle Paul as a “Community Organizer”   I’ve discovered that one of my foremost responsibilities is to assess, identify, stimulate and disciple healthy emotional habits amongst extended spiritual families.  I cannot sweep-under-the-carpet the messy, methodical work of gardening the soil of mutual submission to each other under the Lordship of Jesus.  If we abdicate this it will perpetually sabotage our community’s maturity.  Belonging may start with these practices but forging an alternative community goes beyond hosting parties, having BBQ’s, hanging out and chatting about recent books we’ve read.  Much of the best selling Spiritual Formation literature I’ve come across takes a very individualistic angle on personal betterment and intimacy with God, but the living laboratory of community should be the primary space for the careful surgery on our self-oriented hearts.

A community diagnostician becomes a student of the scaffolding of community, gradually stirring very specific emotional and practical habits into the fabric of shared life. I am in awe of the epic prophetic nature of being together. Every time our community gathers we model the future we want to create.  We bear witness to the coming Kingdom of Jesus.

Thoughts?

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