Emerge and Restore

Exploring faith, God, and church in the 21st century...

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Location: Kansas, United States

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Community on purpose

One of the first things we have to recognize and work on when it comes to community is that it never happens by accident. Put all the devout, godly people you know in a room, and although they will be genuinely great people with a genuine desire for God, a close-knit community won't magically appear. Perhaps that's because often when we are part of a group, our goal within the group is implicitly to not cause strife, to refrain from hurting feelings, to avoid getting on anyone's nerves. But with all due respect, that's not good enough. Avoidance of harm does not communicate love. Coming to your aid when harm has come your way does.

Community is never, cannot ever be passive. We can't think that by inserting our body into a church building and pasting on a false smile does anybody any good. Not being rude to the people we come into contact with isn't enough. We've been called to build them up. We've got to step up to build community. It's not enough to avoid gossip, we've got to slay gossip and confront gossipers. We've got to have ZERO tolerance for people who come to us complaining about a third party if they haven't brought this the other person's attention first. We've got to actively squelch griping and whining, as if our motives weren't selfish in the first place. Community will never grow until we realize that we haven't done our job by being harmless...we won't be accomplishing our purpose until we are helpful. Until we are the Barnabas of our time. Until we are builders instead of avoiders.

...but those are all nice words, good thoughts until I try to apply them to my life. Then things get sticky and I get cranky. I WANT to be intentional. I want to be the most loving, caring, transparent person in town. I psyche myself up and then...I get scared, I back off. How do I intentionally build a relationship with the man in my church who didn't want me to be appointed as the minister, who my teaching/preaching never connects with, who thinks teaching ecclesiology is actually wrong and improper because that word isn't found in scripture? How do I connect with the older lady to whom church is a place of comfort and stability, a link to her past and her deceased husband, and to whom my style of faith presents a destabilizing force and is something of a threat? How can I be present in the life of the sad-faced woman who sneaks into every worship just as it gets underway, and flees before the final Amen...come to find out that her former husband used to have my current job (decades ago), but left her and ran off with the church secretary, and she's so beat up and scarred by members of the church that she wraps herself in a veil of silence to protect herself? How do I impact the church leader who has the authority and influence to fire me at a whim...yet needs to be lovingly corrected? How do I do that? I know people that could succeed in those situations...but I don't feel like that person...and yet this effort...this brief wisp of fresh air has to start with me. I have to do it on purpose and forget my insecurities and reach out and touch them and do it for their sake and for the sake of Christ. I've got to love them enough that I can't let them wander through the builidng unnconnected, untouched, unloved. Lord, help me to be who I need to be...help me to love...on purpose.


Blogger James said...

You have the heart of a minister. That is easily seen simply by reading these posts. Your description could be a description of just about any congregation.

The key to restoring community is communication. Through communication an adversary can be come an ally; a widow can overcome her grief, and a wounded sister can find healing. Through communication the issues that have been buried for years can be dealt with, confessed, and then discarded. All of this can help restore community.

I has similar concerns in a different situation and felt like I needed to be the one to solve the issues. A professor of theology had to remind me that there is only one Savior and that if I trie to take on everyone's problems on my own the burden would too much for me to bear. Another key to restoring community is enlisting others to help in the restoration.

I will pray for you, brother.

10:54 PM  
Blogger Kc said...

It's so hard to look beyond the facade and see the need of each person but that seems to be exactly what you do. I trust God to provide you the opportunity, strength and wisdom to communicate His love through you in each of these situations.

1:01 AM  
Blogger c said...

Are these your notes on ecclesiology that you have been teaching? Would enjoy reading those. Good stuff, but sure is messy.

6:43 AM  
Blogger David U said...

Neal, I don't envy your situation, but my faith tells me God will help you in this mountain you are climbing........and you are NOT climbing alone, because all of us are traveling with you thru prayer.

God is faithful!


6:48 AM  
Blogger pegc said...

A lot of people are afraid of change. They become paranoid in churches where someone is preaching something they are not use to. (I'm thinking of my parents, right now!)

I don't know you and certainly don't know your situation. I am not an expert on any of this. I just felt compelled to tell you that you sound like you have a heart for people and their hurts.

You mentioned that "avoidance of hurt does not communicate love." But sometimes in my effort to love and correct, hurt occurs because of a perception that person has. There is nothing I can do to change that perception or impression. I may not even be aware of that perception at that time and find it hard to understand the reaction they give me.

I find that by trying to communicate love I end up hurting and pushing them farther away. So I end up inserting my body into the church building and doing my own thing.

You have convicted me that I need to do more than I have been doing, so I plan to give this more thought and hope either you or someone else out there has the answers to your questions! I want to learn a better way.

7:39 AM  
Blogger DJG said...

See the thing is we all need to have the attitude that it starts with "ME". That is really the way to make it work.

7:39 AM  
Blogger Neal W. said...


The class is kinda based off of "The Second Incarnation" by Rubel Shelley and Randy Harris (you're a Harris fan, right?), although I'm branching out farther and farther from it every week. It's probably not material that's going to blow the mind of a grad student...but it is a great resource to put in the hands of Christians who have never studied it very deeply. I've asked everyone in my class to buy a copy and read it before coming to class (about 10 people do it...). Anyway, aside from occasional ignorant hecklers who hate Rubel Shelley, it's going really well.

9:07 AM  
Blogger Monk-in-Training said...

I wish I could give you the answers, but as you have so beautifully pointed out, community is messy, complicated and sometimes just plan hard to do. It is also easy to walk away from. Many Christians "hide" in huge Mega-Churchs, others just come in late, as you have in your flock. It is a wonderful thing you are doing.

Almighty and everliving God, source of all wisdom and understanding, be present with Neal as he strives to be faithful to the mission of Your Church. Teach us in all things to seek first Your honor and glory. Guide us to perceive what is right, and grant us both the courage to pursue it and the grace to accomplish it; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

9:49 AM  
Blogger Neal W. said...

Next time I'm in Oklahoma, I'll have to look you and get some coffee or tea...or whatever monks drink. Thanks and God bless.

1:32 PM  
Blogger Neal W. said...

Up. Look you up.

1:52 PM  
Blogger Eddie said...

You are a great American.

2:45 PM  
Blogger TCS said...

You should be from Ruble's hometown...talk about some ignorant hecklers.

3:09 PM  
Blogger Keith Brenton said...

Loving advice from a non-minister: Don't try to shoulder this all yourself. If it succeeds, you'll be tempted to take credit. If it fails, you'll be tempted to take the blame.

Like my friend David says, let the Lord work through you. Let it rise or fall at His pleasure.

6:33 AM  

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