They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers. (Acts 2:42, The Message)
Community. Everybody’s talking about it, the new Christian buzzword. We all agree community is vital to our faith, and that we have been called to it. In Acts we read about the first Christians and what their lives looked like in the early church. And what we find is they lived life together. Nothing super fancy there. They just did life, together.
The problem comes when we try and figure out how to accomplish genuine community in the midst of our own lives. Unfortunately — or fortunately depending on how you look at it — community cannot be legislated. It’s not founded in a program or maintained in potluck dinners. I’ve seen both fail for the same reason: lack of authenticity. You’ve got to be willing to share openly and honestly, because that’s where connection happens. And community is built through connections.
I haven’t met very many honest people in church. But I have seen a lot of people trying to put on happy faces and hide broken places. Putting on your “Sunday best” has very little to do with what clothes you decide to put on, but has everything to do with the person you want to present to those around you. And if you’re like me, you have figured out pretty quickly that you’d better show people the best possible version of yourself. (If you don’t, they’ll look at you with their judging eyes.)
So, instead, we talk about the things that are acceptable. These topics include: the weather, the pastor’s sermon, where you plan on eating lunch after the service, what you did the previous week, and possibly sports. Banned topics include: sex, unanswered prayers, doubts, and real struggles.
I’m not talking about the struggles that make you look better (I pray for an hour every day, but I really feel like I should pray for two.) I’m talking about admitting an addiction to pornography, or not trusting God, or how you haven’t cracked open your Bible in the past year.
We’re afraid to be honest. We keep things shallow and manageable to protect ourselves.
With depth comes uncertainty and the possibility of being hurt and rejected. There’s no doubt there’s a risk involved. Genuine relationships are messy and you will get hurt. You will question whether being open was worth the hurt. It is. At least I think so.
Because I’d rather have the genuine — with its flaws and brokenness — than have to tiptoe around a self-constructed facade. It’s in the unguarded conversations where people can relate to one another and truly begin to encourage one another.
I want to hear about marriages that aren’t perfect, but have made it through the battles stronger and more united. I want to hear from mothers who struggle with perfection, but who are finding joy in the mess. I want to hear from people who battle anxiety, but are able to learn a deeper trust in God in spite of it.
I may not have the same challenges as the person across the sanctuary from me, but I can glean wisdom from their experiences. I can’t learn if I never take the time to truly listen, or if I don’t even ask.
And I’m not talking about asking, “How are you?” while you keep walking, either. If you’re going to ask me how I’m doing, you won’t be getting some prepackaged and pre-rehearsed robotic response. You’re going to hear about the migraine I’ve had all day, or how someone brought me a piece of chocolate cake for breakfast.
We tend to complicate how to accomplish community, but I think if we go back to Acts 2:42, we’ll be reminded that all we really need to do is live life together. Are you planning on going on a wine tasting tour to admire the fall colours? Do you want to check out the new sushi place everyone has been talking about? Are you entering a 5K to support a local charity? Invite someone new to come along. Sure, there may be some awkward silences, but no one ever died from it. Trust me.
We’ve got to start somewhere because we need each other. As much as I’d rather just stick to myself and do things my own way, I know community helps me grow and mature in my relationship with Christ.
And that type of growth only happens with honest conversation — an iron-sharpening-iron type dialogue.
So, let’s do it. Let’s live life together. Let’s be in community.
Photo (Flickr CC) by judylcrook.