Alright, I'm going to need for you to retard your anger level a few notches and listen to me, can you do that?
Some quick thoughts on community, with regard to church that is.
"Community" is a bit of a buzz word in the church world and you would at times wonder how the church existed all these years without an emphasis on "authentic community."
That aside, it's been my experience and thinking that it's kind of a double-edged sword. People clamor for community, but then when the effects of community kick in, positive or negative, they would like a refund, or back away, or start looking for another community.
For example, when people get close enough to you to start helping you grow in sanctification by pointing out (self-)destructive behavior, fences come up with the tenderness.
Smaller churches can be appealing for the (seemingly) increased potential for community, but when those who love you in the community start to give you the business for sleeping through church, what do you do?
The irony is that God gives us community (i.e., our local church) to aid in our sanctification. Those people are there to help us see things we won't/can't see in ourselves. Those people will also give you the opportunity to forgive those who sin against you, to restore the relationship. Those people will give you the opportunity to be patient with a brother or sister who is well behind you on the road to holiness.
But being confronted with our shortcomings doesn't feel nice at all. Being wronged and overlooking it or seeking to fix it biblically aren't any fun.
So, what's the answer?
Practically, folks will often ...
1. Keep things to a very superficial level. Those who aren't close to you, don't know you, and really can't hurt you. This is the easiest, particularly in a larger church where you think nothing of it when you don't have many close relationships. There's the illusion of peace and a few tender people or troublemakers won't have the same potential for derailing the church's health, but this is truly only the appearance of intimate community.
2. Poison the community by harboring ill feelings toward one who you feel has wronged you, knowingly or not, it doesn't matter. Biblically, reconciliation is not optional. Paul stopped down in his letter to the Philippians to "waste" 2 verses so 2 ladies could reconcile (Phil 4:2-3).
3. Leave the church because you got tender with someone. It's easier to mail it in, assuming folks at the other church will be different. Of course, after a few churches one has to wonder if it's not the individual with the problem, not these many collections of people. I say that tongue-in-cheek, of course, because the group is no more perfect than the people of which it is comprised.
So, the easy route is to get tender and leave, hoping folks will call to ask why, so there can a laundry list revealed of insensitive people.
If we took a poll, I'm confident this would be in the top 3 reasons, if not THE top reason, as to why people leave a church. Pastors, can I get an "Amen"?
It doesn't have to be tenderness with a leader, though that helps accelerate the process.
Somebody didn't reach out enough to me. Somebody didn't invite me to his/her bit. Somebody wasn't receptive to my reaching out. Somebody hurt my feelings. Someone got tender with me over something I said or did that I don't think was any big deal. I was sick and missed 2 Sundays and nobody called or came by to ask about me. I slept through 2 Sundays because I was tired from being out too late the night before and someone asked me why I wasn't at church.
The worst is some combination of #2 & #3, whereby the root of bitterness grows so the poison permeates before the leaving, whereby more leave in the process.
How is God honored in any of that? How impressive is the Gospel that it makes superficial friends of God's people or that it makes friends of those who are alike?
What's impressive is a Gospel that saves from wrath and makes us pure. What's impressive is a Gospel that changes hearts so that we can love unlovely and we can love in spite of our differences and in spite of wronging and being wronged.
Authentic community is not easy, to create or maintain. And we also have to be careful what we wish for. We just might get it.
And in the process of REALLY getting to know other sinners saved by grace, you may find them hard to love ... and they may find you hard to love.
But that's when we get to practice the "one anothers" of Scripture:
- Forgive one another - only possible when you've been wronged.
- Be kind to one another - natural when they're kind to you, otherwise not so much.
- Accept one another - this can only happen when the person doesn't meet your expectations and/or standards of behavior or knowledge.
- Bear one another's burdens - you have your own, which is heavy enough, right?
- Encourage one another - the discouraged can bring you down, or you can bring them up.
- Honor one another - spotlighting another person certainly is contrary to our human nature.
- Love one another - even loving those who don't deserve it, just as God loved the undeserving, us included.
- Comfort one another - when something bad happens to another, you can say, "Be warm; be fed," or you can give them spiritual comfort.
- Teach one another - nobody likes a know-it-all, so they may not listen.
- Pray for one another - we all like to be prayed for, but few put the needs of others before their own, which is demonstrated in prayers for others (beyond, "God, please fix that guy!").
For more on conflict resolution, check out The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict, Ken Sande. (HT Kyle Kerby)