Emerge and Restore

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

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Location: Kansas, United States

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Community through Stress

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the reason we are so community-impoverished is because community is difficult. It calls us to a high standard. If we are to live in community, we have to live lives that are worthy of community, lives that are intentional and honest and giving and real. And that’s a tall order for any group of people at any one time.

Efforts to build community, particularly in a church setting, will generally be met with resistance, not only because it flies in the face of the institutional leanings of our current church culture, but because it’s messy. After experiencing an act of community a woman came to me with tears in her eyes and asked, “Why isn’t this what we are striving for? Why isn’t this what the church is about?” And I hugged her and said, “Because it’s going to require tears…and we’ve taught people that church should be easy and tidy and systematic…people don’t come here to face things…they don’t come here to cry.” And I asked if she thought the two of us could be brave enough to model this new style of behavior for the rest of the body. She replied, “Maybe…”

We’ve designed our church services to be clean and stress free. You enter the professionally decorated, climate controlled comfort of your worship center, are handed a newsletter by nametag-wearing people who have been trained to smile all the time and open all the doors for you. You sit in a padded seat or pew and watch good-looking, well-groomed people instruct you in how to worship and tell you what to think. Everything starts and ends on time, with no room for spontaneity or the moving of the Spirit (an elder at the church I previously served once told me, “You went two minutes over schedule…there are visitors in there who are never coming back because of you.”...I'm not kidding...two minutes). And so, community will never take place in that setting. Community requires time and freedom and challenges and bumps and bruises.

And thus, community will bring stress. Not just the stress that your own life entails, because community requires you to be present in the stress and tragedy of others' lives. And such a process will never be formulaic or bound by rules. The journey to becoming a community must be ruled by our hearts and our consciences…and by the love that I think is supposed to be the point of our faith anyway.

8 Comments:

Blogger James said...

Another good post.

When one reads through the book of Psalms one will see the true essence of living in community. There are psalms of praise and worship. There are psalms of deep loneliness. There are psalms of pain and suffering. There are even psalms that question God.

We have been taught that worship should always be positive. Yet when this is the case we are putting up a facade. There are people in the congregation who are lonely; who are suffering, and some who are even questioning God. Yet they are asked to sing songs of praise and worship every Sunday. True community is honest and recognizes that life is not always tidy and easy. It is hard and not always fair.

If we come before God and act as if everything is great just to maintain the artificial appearance of positivity are we truly living in communion with God? When compared with the book of Psalms I would say probably not.

"There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven --" (Eccl. 3:1, NAS).

10:39 AM  
Blogger jettybetty said...

Neal,
I am really enjoying your blog! You have some dynamite thoughts!

Have you ever visited Broolyn Tabernacle? They don't plan every minute of their services--they allow time for people to cry, laugh, whatever their emotion is. (They also take 2 1/2 to 3 hours and they DO have visitors come back.) I have a 50+ year history with CoC's and I really enjoy visiting there. I do feel a sense of community.

You have suggested some positive ways to start moving a direction for closer community. It will be "messy" but I think most of us long for it!

Blessings!
JB

3:14 PM  
Blogger pegc said...

Thanks for your words of encouragement to me and my husband on my blog, the other day. Just a side note, we have been married 35 years today (Sunday).

One of our discussions recently, that I think relates to what you are saying here, is that we tend to frame our life around the 1-hour of church service on Sunday. Community is not about the defining moments that happen in that one hour. Yet we tend to define our whole "Christian" existence in that one hour. And then you top it off with masks of perfection, we really screw things up.

We are trying to do things differently by recognizing that we are community more than one hour on Sunday. BTW, my husband is a shepherd for a congregation that recently merged. A cofc and a Christian church. It has been an exciting and learning experience.

Thanks for your posts. I really appreciate your exploring of this community idea and it is encouraging me a lot.

Peggy in Texas

6:09 AM  
Blogger David U said...

Neal, to be so young you have a tremdendous amount of wisdom. God is blessing you, brother. This was a POWERFUL post, and it inspires us, challenges us, and causes us to be accountable. Your take on where we have been in regard to "church" and where we need to go is dead on. Preach on!
It has a familiar ring to it.....something similar in Mark 7: 6-8 "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men. You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men."

So, you are in pretty good company!

In HIM,
DU

12:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Incredible that an elder would think 2 minutes would have an impact. Sounds like he was on a power trip or the audience he was concerned about were watching their watch more than anything else.

I agree that building community requires tears. This is because it requires exposing our raw, most fragile inner selves. We use social manners as a barrier to protect our secrets and our psyche from hurt.

8:43 PM  
Blogger TCS said...

great post. this all fits well with a converstion we were having / are having at DJG's Chit Chat. I am too lazy to link it. But you can go to mine and then hers if you want.

8:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why were the comments on the above post (Community and the Trinity) taken down?

7:36 AM  
Blogger Neal W. said...

If people can't play nice, then they can't play at all. Comments are NOT the place to "fix" the theology of other commenters. Criticize the post, fine...but no online shouting matches, please.

7:55 AM  

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