I have a couple of new books at home that I am looking forward to reading as well as some that I am already workign on. The new books are a small book by Dietrich Bonhoeffer Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community and When the Church was a Family: Recapturing Jesus’ Vision for Authentic Christian Community written by Jospeh Hellerman. (I also got Russell Moore's Adopted for Life, but that is going on the backburner for right now).
I am interested in reading what Hellerman has to say. I am curious how he defines “authentic community” given that he is on the pastoral team of a church with an average attendance of 400 on a Sunday. When you define authentic community, how is that lived out in such a large gathering? It is pretty hard to get to know one another like family in a church gathering of 80-100 people, much less in a gathering that averages 400!
It seems that in most conversations about community, the elephant in the room is that it is hard to have meaningful community without spending a LOT of time together. Community requires more than twice on Sunday, once on Wednesday meetings for a total of three hours. You need to see people through the good times and the bad, when they are at their best (i.e. on church behavior) and their worst (when they are sick and discouraged, wearing sweat pants instead of their Sunday best). You need to spend time doing things together and I would suggest that the less “churchy” those things are, the better. I can listen to sermons all day long and sing out of a hymnal until I go hoarse, but that doesn’t lead to community. I can be a member of a local congregation, show up at church, vote at the business meetings and bring a dish to pass once a quarter and not be in community with those around me doing the same thing.
Why don’t we spend more time together? Shouldn’t we desire the fellowship of the saints above all else? I think it is just too inconvenient. Being really close with people, like a family, is messy. It intrudes on our lives. There is a reason we go to a church: it keeps people out of our houses! We might find that people annoy us or have habits we don’t like that we won’t see by smiling, shaking hands and sitting next to one another for an hour in a pew. Sharing our lives, sharing our homes, sharing our treasures and our stuff intrudes on our desire to be self-sufficient and private. What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours. I will come to church, you come to church and when it is over we will go our separate ways until the next scheduled meeting.
I am not sure how we can speak about community and fellowship and read in Acts 2:46 where the church was daily breaking bread with one another and yet restrict our fellowship with other believers to a few hours a week. Rather than bringing us into closer community, the traditional church model erects barriers to community and in many ways encourages us to not be in community with one another by giving a false sense of shared lives because we are in the same building for a few hours a week.
The lack of community and fellowship with other believers is really pressing on us. I sense that God is molding us for some purpose, preparing us for something radical. Really radical, not like what most market driven churches pass off as radical, but John the Baptist radical, Acts 2 & 4 radical. I pray that as a family we will be open to what God has planned for us, that we will submit to His will. I know in my heart and in His Word that He intends more for His children than what passes for community today.