In our community group, Amie Bokelman had surgery that left her incapacitated, yet with her little ones still running around.
Fortunately, my wife Karen loves Amie and, sensing her predicament, showed up bright and early yesterday to take Caden and Olivia to our house. It was nothing special – just a small example of how community works.
The point is that God designed us human beings as communal creatures. We need one another – we need real connection and real encouragement just to make it through life. That’s why God told us not to “forsake assembling together.” That’s the point of church – not all this ecclesiological falderal you see in a lot of institutional churches.
We don’t need pseudo connection and we don’t need a pantomime. Life dishes out a steady dose of stinging wounds that can only be touched and healed in a place of deep trust where you are known and loved. Fail to find a place of encouragement with people who know how to love and you become callused and jaundiced. It’s frustrating if you settle for a facsimile of the original, but if you find it, it is so worth the search. I got the following in an email newsletter from John Eldredge last week. He really gets it. It was long, so I edited down a bit.
Going to church with hundreds of other people to sit and hear a sermon doesn’t ask much of you. It certainly will never expose you. That’s why most folks prefer it.
Community will reveal where you have yet to become holy. It will bring you close and you will be seen and you will be known, and therein lies the power and therein lies the danger. Aren’t there moments when all those little companies, in all those stories, hang by a thread? Galadriel says to Frodo, “Your quest stands upon the edge of a knife. Stray but a little and it will fail, to the ruin of all. Yet hope remains while the Company is true.”
Most churches survive because everyone keeps a polite distance from the others. We keep our meetings short, our conversations superficial. “So, Ted, how’s everything going on the Stewardship Committee?” “Oh, just great, Nancy. We’ve got a big goal to reach this year, but I think we’ll be able to get that gym after all.”
No one is really being set free, but no one is really at odds with each other either. We have settled for safety in numbers-a comfortable, anonymous distance. An army that keeps meeting for briefings, but never breaks into platoons and goes to war. Living in the community is like camping together. For a month. In the desert. Without tents. All your stuff is scattered out there for everyone to see.
A true community is something you’ll have to fight for. You’ll have to fight to get one, and you’ll have to fight to keep it afloat. But you fight for it as you bail out a life raft during a storm at sea. You want this thing to work. You need this thing to work. You can’t ditch it and jump back on the cruise ship.
This is the church; this is all you have. Without it, you’ll go down. Or back to captivity. This is the reason those small house fellowships thrive in other countries: they need each other. There are no other options.
God is calling together little communities of the heart, to fight for one another and for the hearts of those who have not yet been set free. That camaraderie, that intimacy, that incredible impact by a few stouthearted souls-that is available. It is the Christian life as Jesus gave it to us. It is completely normal.