Christian community is something that I love (or at least, I’m growing in my love for it). I think that I can now say that because I’ve let go of a lot of the idealism that I’ve held in the past. Growing up in the 90’s there was a bit of the Friends (TV show) utopian ideal, with the sitting in coffeeshops, talking about life, and having those who would personify The Rembrandts’ lyric of “I’ll be there for yooou.” But I eventually came to the realization that I didn’t love Christian community then. I loved the idea of it – the dream of it. Don’t get me wrong, I longed for it – the real deal – and I still do. However, I’ve started to learn over time what I think Dietrich Bonhoeffer was getting at in his book Life Together, when he said these challenging words,
He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial. Those who dream of this idolized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands set up by their own law, and judge one another and God accordingly. It is not we who build. Christ builds the church. Whoever is mindful to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it, for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it. We must confess, he builds. We must proclaim, he builds. We must pray to him, and he will build (pg. 27).
Now, I feel that I can come to say that it is something that I love, partly because I’ve been disappointed time and time again (and have done my share of disappointing as well, I’m sure), and the grand dreams that I once had and held on to have become broken. It’s still getting purified, but I’ve noticed in this season that I’ve let go of many expectations that I’ve placed on others. I also have learned to let go of obligations that I’ve felt projected onto me by others, expectations that often get placed on church leaders by those they lead and serve. I’ve learned (and am learning) much about healthy boundaries, and am learning how to walk out conflict in a loving way. It’s not about loving the dream of community, but about loving those in the community – with all of our imperfections and quirks. The question then is how we are joining in this activity of Jesus building His church. As a community of Jesus followers, it must be all about Jesus. As we all pursue the One who is pursuing us, we’re learning to keep in step with the Spirit. We need each other on this journey – it requires prayer, humility, empathy, and compassion. And it’s all made possible by His grace.
In January, I had an opportunity to dig down into this topic, and put into words what I feel like the Lord has been speaking to me. Here is a clip, with the whole recording below it:
You can listen to the whole message here:
Bonhoeffer, D. (1954). Life together. New York, NY: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc.