In Search of the Ideal Community

I’m off for an extended weekend to visit my parents in the Sierra Nevada mountains above Fresno. Yes, Sara, my daughter and the grandgirls are going too! It should be fun! Before I go, I thought I’d leave you with this:

I get in a lot of discussions with people about the practicality of finding real community among flawed brothers and sisters. Certainly we are all in a journey of transformation, but community need not demand perfection, just the resolve to live inside relationships. Everyone wants community but mostly for the benefits, and that can’t happen where people are not also willing to pay the cost.

The cost is this: one must put the priority of friendship above any other consideration, including how right I think I am. This is what Philippians 2:1-4 and other passages encourage us to do. The problem is, so few people I’ve met in this life can either live that or sustain it for any length of time. The moment community is about something other than friendship (finding our ministry, promoting our own happiness, or satisfying our coping mechanisms), it will always break down into a competition as to who has the most power to get their way.

The problem with any structure we would seek to use to guarantee this kind of life eventually fails. Subtly the structure replaces relationship, as people think the structure (the fact we belong to the same group) guarantees a relationship. But it won’t be long before most people will exploit the structure for their own self-interest or preferences. And most of those will mask their selfishness by claiming God led them to pursue they things they also happen to prefer the most. The biggest disappointments of my life have come when people get involved in a friendship only for as long as it met their needs and desires. Then they easily tossed aside the friendship like a piece of junk mail. They wanted the benefits of friendship, but had neither the responsibility nor integrity to contribute to the friendship beyond their own gain.

That’s why real community remains elusive. I read something interesting this morning that provoked these thoughts. I am reading
His Excellency George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis. It’s a fascinating read and this particular paragraph really leapt out at me.

During the war Washington had learned, the hard way, that depending on a virtuous citizenry was futile, for it asked more than human nature was capable of delivering… Making voluntary sacrifice the operative principle of republican government had proved to be a romantic delusion. Both individual citizens and sovereign states required coercion to behave responsibly.

I realize he is talking about fallen humanity, but his conclusion perhaps applies to the redeemed community as well. Since we’re all people being shaped by Jesus in various stages of healing, community cannot rest on perfection. Asking people to prefer relationship over self-interest is to ask what human nature is incapable of delivering. Without an ongoing transforming work of the Spirit, which goes on in the whole of our lives, community is impossible.

So I guess I’m back to where I began. Real community is found in friendships, not structures. And even there, they may be transitory at best. Enjoy them when God brings them across your path. Share his life together as long as there is grace to do so. You can structure around it when a group of friends are sharing the life of Jesus together, but no structure will guarantee or secure that life for any period of time.

So here’s what I hope to do: Love everyone. Recognize those relationships that go deeper with a sense of mutuality and sacrifice. Enjoy sharing the journey together and fight for those relationships more than anything else. In real community, being right with each other is more important than being right about any issue. But don’t be too shocked or devastated when some of them go south. Some people don’t have enough maturity yet to live inside their spiritual nature in the moments when relationship costs them something. The endurance of community asks for something that human nature isn’t capable of providing. That doesn’t have to be a cynical conclusion, just a practical one.

As I’ve said often, community is a gift God gives not a mandate for us to manufacture. Always extend it to others. Revel in it for those seasons where others extend it to you as well. And let’s all look forward to the day when all our vices and selfishness are swallowed up in the fullness of Christ.

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18 Comments
  1. Daveda August 1, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    Wayne, I met you very briefly, recently at the Because of Jesus conference in Tulsa. I was there with a group of friends from Illinois. I just wanted to say that I LOVED the insight you shared there, even if you were man bait!

    I read your books, “So, You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore”, and “Authentic Relationships” they spoke volumes to me. The Lord has been showing me so many things about the Church as a system, that I never saw before. One of those things seems to fit what you mentioned above. If one decides to leave a program with-in the church, or even leave that particular church, why do the friendships have to suffer? Is it because they are based on nothing more than what you mutually have in common at that moment and not on Jesus alone? Shouldn’t friendships be about more than a program? Shouldn’t we want to love and support each other regardless of what activities we choose to be or not be involved in?

    I feel I am on a journey to a new place and I am looking forward to it. Thanks for being you and in that, the Lord has used you to speak truth to me. Thanks for blogging. Stop by my blog some time and say hello.

  2. Theresa August 1, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    Well said, Wayne. I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships and the expectations game we tend to default too. I think one of the hardest things I’m finding as I learn to give grace….is to not get my feelings hurt when I feel I have not been dealt with graciously. But then it’s back to that expectations thing isn’t it? We love because HE FIRST LOVED US. Period.
    But it is an lovely treat when we find ourselves on the receiving end of grace, isn’t it?
    I’m finding more and more that when I am gracious with people….I can feel God’s pleasure and it’s a sweet place to hang out. Not because I’ve found the magic button to push but rather because I am truly learning what it’s like to live inside of Papa’s love.
    Have a wonderful time with your family!
    Theresa

  3. Ron Faulkner August 1, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    You always have such incite! Wayne, I understand that true love bears all things and endures all things. Is there something missing that we have yet to learn when we find disappointment in those times when others won’t endure?

  4. Daveda August 1, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    Wayne, I met you very briefly, recently at the Because of Jesus conference in Tulsa. I was there with a group of friends from Illinois. I just wanted to say that I LOVED the insight you shared there, even if you were man bait!

    I read your books, “So, You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore”, and “Authentic Relationships” they spoke volumes to me. The Lord has been showing me so many things about the Church as a system, that I never saw before. One of those things seems to fit what you mentioned above. If one decides to leave a program with-in the church, or even leave that particular church, why do the friendships have to suffer? Is it because they are based on nothing more than what you mutually have in common at that moment and not on Jesus alone? Shouldn’t friendships be about more than a program? Shouldn’t we want to love and support each other regardless of what activities we choose to be or not be involved in?

    I feel I am on a journey to a new place and I am looking forward to it. Thanks for being you and in that, the Lord has used you to speak truth to me. Thanks for blogging. Stop by my blog some time and say hello.

  5. Theresa August 1, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    Well said, Wayne. I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships and the expectations game we tend to default too. I think one of the hardest things I’m finding as I learn to give grace….is to not get my feelings hurt when I feel I have not been dealt with graciously. But then it’s back to that expectations thing isn’t it? We love because HE FIRST LOVED US. Period.
    But it is an lovely treat when we find ourselves on the receiving end of grace, isn’t it?
    I’m finding more and more that when I am gracious with people….I can feel God’s pleasure and it’s a sweet place to hang out. Not because I’ve found the magic button to push but rather because I am truly learning what it’s like to live inside of Papa’s love.
    Have a wonderful time with your family!
    Theresa

  6. Ron Faulkner August 1, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    You always have such incite! Wayne, I understand that true love bears all things and endures all things. Is there something missing that we have yet to learn when we find disappointment in those times when others won’t endure?

  7. R.L. Anderson August 2, 2009 at 5:57 am

    Thanks again , Wayne … It is odd , but I have been thinking of similar things , but you managed to put them down on paper … I suppose that Jane and I need real community terribly bad , and yet , as you say , enjoy it while it is here … My son Tony and I were visiting about this last night … and we were reminded of Ecclesiastes chapter 3 … actually , the whole book. It seems that all things come , all things go .
    It is always revolving , like the rain water traveling to the ocean and brought back to the center to begin its journey all over again ….around and around it goes , but it constantly carries on the journey with new water particles , yet it is fresh , not stagnant … wierd
    bob

  8. R.L. Anderson August 2, 2009 at 8:57 am

    Thanks again , Wayne … It is odd , but I have been thinking of similar things , but you managed to put them down on paper … I suppose that Jane and I need real community terribly bad , and yet , as you say , enjoy it while it is here … My son Tony and I were visiting about this last night … and we were reminded of Ecclesiastes chapter 3 … actually , the whole book. It seems that all things come , all things go .
    It is always revolving , like the rain water traveling to the ocean and brought back to the center to begin its journey all over again ….around and around it goes , but it constantly carries on the journey with new water particles , yet it is fresh , not stagnant … wierd
    bob

  9. Bill August 3, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    Thanks for putting this into words so well, Wayne.
    We’re fortunate to have a couple of close friends of the sort you described, and it’s really worth the effort and cost. Several months ago, when I met with my friend Don for lunch, I told him, “Don, you know this is really all about you.” He was very surprised (and very uncomfortable) with my statement. I explained that my whole reason for meeting with him was to find some way to express the Father’s love to him in some small way. It was a great lunch-time conversation that followed.

  10. Bill August 3, 2009 at 5:11 pm

    Thanks for putting this into words so well, Wayne.
    We’re fortunate to have a couple of close friends of the sort you described, and it’s really worth the effort and cost. Several months ago, when I met with my friend Don for lunch, I told him, “Don, you know this is really all about you.” He was very surprised (and very uncomfortable) with my statement. I explained that my whole reason for meeting with him was to find some way to express the Father’s love to him in some small way. It was a great lunch-time conversation that followed.

  11. todd August 4, 2009 at 6:27 am

    I feel I am on a journey to a new place and I am looking forward to it. -Daveda

    I loved Daveda’s little comment here….great to read this Wayne! a helpful reminder 🙂

  12. todd August 4, 2009 at 9:27 am

    I feel I am on a journey to a new place and I am looking forward to it. -Daveda

    I loved Daveda’s little comment here….great to read this Wayne! a helpful reminder 🙂

  13. Richard Wilson August 5, 2009 at 12:01 am

    Appreciated this article.

    One question for me is whether the statement “one must put the priority of friendship above any other consideration” would be better expressed with the term “relationship” rather than “friendship”. My sense is that is easy to take “friendship” too narrowly.

    In my journey – which included 3 years living with our family in an intentional christian community [about 40 people all up] – it was important to recognise and work on the relationships that we entered into as we became part of the community and to keep working on them until they developed into friendships.

    A key thing I learnt is that God gives us brothers and sisters and puts us together. We are free to chose our friends but we are given our brothers and sisters. In those years I learnt the reality and power of that. The brothers and sisters God gives us are eternal brothers and sisters!!

    Richard W
    South Australia

  14. Richard Wilson August 5, 2009 at 3:01 am

    Appreciated this article.

    One question for me is whether the statement “one must put the priority of friendship above any other consideration” would be better expressed with the term “relationship” rather than “friendship”. My sense is that is easy to take “friendship” too narrowly.

    In my journey – which included 3 years living with our family in an intentional christian community [about 40 people all up] – it was important to recognise and work on the relationships that we entered into as we became part of the community and to keep working on them until they developed into friendships.

    A key thing I learnt is that God gives us brothers and sisters and puts us together. We are free to chose our friends but we are given our brothers and sisters. In those years I learnt the reality and power of that. The brothers and sisters God gives us are eternal brothers and sisters!!

    Richard W
    South Australia

  15. JEFF August 18, 2009 at 9:23 am

    For the longest time I tried to envision community along the form lines of my church experiences. Then I began to realize that was the problem…it cannot look like church. Churches have long long histories and they are often based on conformity to a lot of things. And often the hiding and posing that we see comes as a result of us not thinking or feeling like we, in our hearts, measure up to the standard of the rest.

    Now I am beginning to see that Christian community must be seasoned again and again with grace. The grace of God to us and then we offering that same grace to others who are different, struggling, new to the life, broken – and just different than we are. And in order for this to work, I am learning that there is no “conformity standard” that we are all aiming at. When I start to let go of that, then I realize that community could sort of “come and go” in different forms and it would be alright. It is much more important that the grace season the particular community of folks than for there to be a stated vision, or size, or goal, or standard of behavior.

    I have not seen much in the way of these kinds of environments. In No America, we are so familiar with the Christendom model that we measure so much of our thinking against that, even if we have moved outside of the form, as I have. So I want to continue to recognize community and grace full living anywhere, and in any form.

    Jeff Emhoff
    Cazenovia, NY

  16. JEFF August 18, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    For the longest time I tried to envision community along the form lines of my church experiences. Then I began to realize that was the problem…it cannot look like church. Churches have long long histories and they are often based on conformity to a lot of things. And often the hiding and posing that we see comes as a result of us not thinking or feeling like we, in our hearts, measure up to the standard of the rest.

    Now I am beginning to see that Christian community must be seasoned again and again with grace. The grace of God to us and then we offering that same grace to others who are different, struggling, new to the life, broken – and just different than we are. And in order for this to work, I am learning that there is no “conformity standard” that we are all aiming at. When I start to let go of that, then I realize that community could sort of “come and go” in different forms and it would be alright. It is much more important that the grace season the particular community of folks than for there to be a stated vision, or size, or goal, or standard of behavior.

    I have not seen much in the way of these kinds of environments. In No America, we are so familiar with the Christendom model that we measure so much of our thinking against that, even if we have moved outside of the form, as I have. So I want to continue to recognize community and grace full living anywhere, and in any form.

    Jeff Emhoff
    Cazenovia, NY

  17. Ruth August 26, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    My husband and I have been out of organized church for a relatively short time and enjoying the freedom immensely. We are blessed to have some wonderful Jesus-loving friends some of whom are also out of the church. But I am still waiting for the community. Although we meet fairly often with this group, it seems that there is an agenda for every meeting. I long to connect with like minded Christians who want to come together just to share the life of Christ. I just re-read “So You Don’t Want…Anymore” and as I read the part toward the end where John joined Jake and his friends for the BBQ my heart ached. Oh that we could get to the place in Him where we don’t think that we have to be “doing” something in order to enjoy Him. Just learning to enjoy the different expressions of Him in each other.
    Oh, help us Jesus!

  18. Ruth August 26, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    My husband and I have been out of organized church for a relatively short time and enjoying the freedom immensely. We are blessed to have some wonderful Jesus-loving friends some of whom are also out of the church. But I am still waiting for the community. Although we meet fairly often with this group, it seems that there is an agenda for every meeting. I long to connect with like minded Christians who want to come together just to share the life of Christ. I just re-read “So You Don’t Want…Anymore” and as I read the part toward the end where John joined Jake and his friends for the BBQ my heart ached. Oh that we could get to the place in Him where we don’t think that we have to be “doing” something in order to enjoy Him. Just learning to enjoy the different expressions of Him in each other.
    Oh, help us Jesus!

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