My church has recently launched a series on community called Better Together. In conjunction with the sermon series, I, in collaboration with my senior pastor, wrote a small group curriculum to complement the series. I love community, which is why I love small groups. Like many of you, I work hard on our small group system at my church to equip leaders and to help many in my church experience the fullness of community—the good, the bad and the ugly.
However, as I continue to reflect on community and work toward helping others experience community, I constantly find myself drawn back to and challenged by the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer from his classic work, Life Together. In it, he writes:
God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly…. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.
Because God has already laid the only foundation of our fellowship, because God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ, long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients. We thank God for what He has done for us. We thank God for giving us brethren who live by His call, by His forgiveness and His promise. (pp. 27-28).
I don’t know about you, but I am constantly tempted to get so caught up in my vision, planning and execution of community, that I rarely stop to seek God’s heart for the community which He has called me to shepherd.
Please do not misunderstand me: I do not believe God wants you or me to be laissez faire when it comes to community either. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 14:33, “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” Structure and guidelines are good as it relates to community; they can help foster an environment where people feel safe to be vulnerable.
So how do we draw the balance. Here are some preliminary thoughts:
1. Pray for your specific community. Thank God for placing you in that specific community. Don’t repress your frustrations about your community, but in the midst of frustrations, be thankful as much as you are able.
2. Listen to God. Don’t spend so much time in prayer for your community that you miss God’s voice to you regarding your community. Remember that God has already laid the foundation.
3. Spend time listening to your people—not just your leaders, but others as well. Know where they are at and what they need to continue to grow spiritually.
4. Get to know your place. What are the specific challenges your community faces? What is good about your place that helps foster community?
5.Learn from others, but not simply to copy. Just because it worked for me does not mean it will work for you.
Do what you feel God is leading you to do. If you feel God prompting you to do something, no matter how crazy it may seem, try it out and see.
What else might you add in light of Bonhoeffer’s challenge to us?