Community, You Keep Using That Word. I Don't Think It Means What You Think It Means.
We live in a time where everyone talks about “community.”
“Community” this. “Community” that. “Community” “Community” “Community”
I have a secret to tell you.
A lot of people who are throwing around this word, “community,” have zero idea what it means or how it is supposed to work itself out in real life.
True community requires a few things.
Just like Vizzini from the Princess Bride, I have a feeling people don't really know what community means.
Yes, that's right community demands conflict. Without conflict there can be no true community. One of the most intimate examples of community is the marriage relationship. To have a healthy marriage that lasts you have to learn how to fight. When I do pre-marital counseling we spend some significant time discussing how to have conflict. To handle conflict with health is central to the longevity and health of the marriage.
Why? Why is conflict a necessity of true community? Because it is in the midst of conflict that we find out if we truly love one another or if we are in relationship with one another for convenience.
As a pastor, I have seen how many people leave their “community” because of conflict. They don't like something the pastor taught. Or maybe there is a person that sinned against them. There are any number of issues ranging from the trivial to the devastating that can create conflict. Most of the time in the American church people leave. Because there is another “community” down the street, this “community” is no longer convenient.
Conflict takes gatherings of people from comfort to community.
Community demands commitment. For true community to exist it demands commitment. There is a need for those seeking to build community to know that the others are not going to walk away when it gets tough.
Commitment is an active decision to love. Making a commitment to a group of people says, “I will give 100% of what I have to offer, knowing that you are too.”
It is important to note the phrase, “what I have to offer,” because during different seasons our capacities will all be different. Some seasons demand more of us than others. Some seasons our 100% will be more than and some less. But, when we are in community, when we have committed ourselves to community it means that we give what we have.
Commitment also means that we don't walk away when community becomes inconvenient. Convenience is the spirit of our age. If something isn't fast, easy, and accessible, we walk away. I love watching people at the grocery check out. They bounce from line to line trying to figure out which one is fastest. Yet, if they had just stayed in the line they were in, they would probably be on their way out to the parking lot. Something is always better just a few feet down.
We do this with community. Our commitment wanes when the convenience factor dips.
“This meeting time isn't the best for me. I'm out.” “I don't really like some of these people. I'm out.” Excuses...excuses...excuses...
If we can't commit to a group of people, then we won't truly know community.
Finally, for true to community to exist we need communication. Commitment and conflict both require communication.
When I have see community breakdown it is almost always in connection to a lack of communication. People don't think they will be listened to or heard. They don't believe that anyone cares what they think. So they don't say anything.
Without communication you can't have community.
Most communities focus all their time and attention on top-down communication. They wrestle with how to get the message from the “leaders” to the “masses.” That's important but it is just as important to figure out the bottom-up communication. The group needs to be able to communicate up.
At the heart of all this is trust. We live in an age where we find it hard to trust. We typically don't trust one another. The leaders of our society have shown over and over again that they are untrustworthy. This filters down to each of us and we struggle to trust.
If we can't trust we won't engage in conflict, we won't commit, and we won't communicate.
So, how about you? Are you in a “community” or a community?