Friday, August 30, 2013

I'm Still Learning: Community

We, as a culture, are decidedly terrible at engaging people in meaningful conversations that require us to listen to one another - the deep, heart-level type listening. In fact, we barely know how to ask the right questions in order to get the kind of answers that reveal any truth about a person's real emotional (spiritual, mental) state. This problem is compounded by our crisis of individualism, in which we often don't want to hear all these intimate answers because then we might have to respond to one another.

While I can understand this lifestyle in non-Christians, I believe it is anathema to the life of the church. As a family, we are called to enter in to each other's sorrows and joys, to encourage and serve one another. This requires us to be both vulnerable in sharing our true selves and generous in caring for others. This is HARD WORK. It means facing the fear of showing our flaws to someone else and confronting our selfishness in not wanting to give what little we think we have [of time, energy, resources] away for someone else's good.

In my last post, I raised 20 questions that I wish the church asked one another more often. But because of the depth of conversation such questions would engage, I believe they raise an even more challenging issue for us: creating the communal space for heart conversations to happen.

"Community" has long been a buzz-word in Christian circles, so I doubt I will add much to the discussion here. We know that we were "made for community", from the communal nature of the Trinity, to the creation of both man and woman so that neither would be alone. Our identity in Christ brings us into a spiritual family; we are each a living stone being built into a spiritual house. But despite what I have known (in my head) about my call to community, I confess that I've been quite negligent about putting it into practice. As I've been preparing to live missionally in New York City, I have been asking the Holy Spirit to teach me more about his design for community and help my weaknesses in this area. And he has been faithful to encourage me!

Community requires daily pursuit. The King of heaven willingly relinquished his throne and the privileges of his deity to come to me. As he walked among us, he invited crowds of people to listen to him and shared the message of truth with all of them. Yet, he only called 12 men to participate in his daily life. As a pastor's wife, I often feel that I need to pursue every woman in the church. I can easily fill my time meeting with one new person after another. But, if that is all I ever did, I could never cultivate deep community with any of them. I am able to discuss heart issues in the one meeting we have, but because I don't have the time to develop ongoing relationships, I fail to enjoy the blessing of intimate community. I know that I don't have the ability to actively pursue 12 women right now, but the Holy Spirit has helped me identify 4 that I have a desire to know and to love on a daily basis. This is where technology has been a blessing, as I can FaceTime, text, call, or email these women nearly every day, just to check in, be mutually encouraged, and say a prayer for what is happening for them in that moment. Then, when we are able to be together, our lives are quickly opened to one another because we have known each other in the moments between our meetings.

This may seem obvious to some of you (especially you extroverts!) but this is a new realm of friendship for me and I am daily learning how easy it is to open myself up to these few women in order to experience greater depth in our relationships. I am taking the exhortation in Hebrews to heart, exhorting others every day so that none of us may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, and considering how to stir up one another to love and good works.

Community requires generosity. One of my favorite verses is Romans 8:32 - He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? And again, in Ephesians (my favorite book), Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. If it is true that now that I am in Christ, if my life does not belong to me, but to him, then everything I have is not my own. It's fairly easy for me to live this out with my talents, believing that any spiritual gift I have is for the good of others, but it is much more difficult for me to give away my time, my energy, and my resources. Yet, again, as I invite the Holy Spirit into my weakness here, he has given me grace to see the opportunities to share what he's given to me with others (especially those 4 ladies). 

What freedom I'm discovering in this! I am still training my mind to consider everything I have as belonging to someone else (considering others' needs as the same or greater than my own), but each time I step out in faith here, I feel immeasurably blessed! This has looked like inviting more people into our home, adapting my time when I see an opportunity to share it with someone else, and giving away more of our stuff than might be comfortable. Simple, small steps that are making huge changes in my heart.

What about you? What have you learned or are being challenged with concerning community? How do you cultivate deep community?

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