Community: On Intentional First Steps

Many of us who are Christians and not supportive of the religious right are not on the left either. In fact, we are opposed to any politicization of the Gospels by any party, Democratic or Republican, by partisan black churches or partisan white ones. “My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus insisted. What part of that do we not understand?

~Andrew Sullivan, My Problem with Christianism. Time Magazine, May 15, 2006


First, I have to repent of my weekday negligence and my weekend sloth. Where are the blog entries? Ah, woe is me, a sluggard! A wastrel and an idler! Frittering away my time and, alas, enjoying every moment, when I should have been making insightful observations of the human condition, and articulating strident resistance to a collapsing culture.

Well, enough! Time has ebbed away and there are thoughts to be thunk! If I aspire to the rank of sage, I must be glib and forthcoming. To the keyboard, thou wretched slacker!

Ok, now I feel suitably penitent–clearheaded enough to raise a hearty cheer for Andrew Sullivan. Indeed, what part of the Master’s words don’t we understand? His kingdom is not of this world. It is of the world to come and we, the “in-betweeners” who are releasing our hold on this dying planet, need to take hold of the future legacy, not by shoring up the sagging timbers of the world kingdom, but by lifting up the sagging arms of the refugees from it.

That kind of action doesn’t come from the top down or the outside in; it comes from within and among. Those called out of the world are responsible for doggedly invading it by making a place for the lost and the wandering; the hopeless and the confused; the alienated and the estranged. I guess I’m making a pitch for community among the Christ followers. That kind of community is built on the outskirts of culture while remaining in the midst of society. It takes time and intentionality that is impossible if we are too preoccupied with manipulating and adjusting the world system.

A few days ago, Jody and I were discussing the challenges of living like the church of the New Testament. We weren’t trying to figure out how to become like the first century church organizationally, but how to better understand what we have called “discipleship.” Clearly, the relationship that caused a leap into faith like the church experienced in the New Testament went far beyond an hour a week for breakfast and a fill-in-the-blanks Bible workbook. “Discipleship” happened because of relationship and common purpose, not to mention a daily reliance on one another and on the power of God. Much of that experience was the result of the society and culture in which those early Christ followers lived. Now, in order to experience the same result we have to intentionally choose those qualities—-they aren’t a natural outcome of the culture we’re in.

Discussions of the zeal and devotion of the early church and the challenge of authentic relationship always provokes the same reaction in a group: relationship and community sound good, but who has the time for that kind of interpersonal investment? The answer is, very few of us do. And that’s where intentionality comes in. If we don’t make the time for relationship and community we will not experience the spiritual depth and maturity of our forefathers in the faith.

So, what does a community like that look like? What steps must be taken to experience it? Desiring to grow in our relationship with the Father, in part by drawing from our relationship with our brethren, is a first step. But that step, and all that come after, won’t happen by accident.

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