The Trinity at The Office

People often talk about the three aspects of the trinity existencing in a perfect community.

It occurred to me that maybe this is a good way to think about the trinity, and how they are three in and one at the same time.

If you watch a community functioning at it’s best, you don’t really know where one person begins and the next one ends.  Nobody relies on strict, legalistic divisions of labor.  Everybody just participates perfectly.  It is organic.  The whole group would suffer if one part was removed, and yet, nobody could exactly point to the missing person and say “Bob?  His duties were x, y, and z.”  I’ve read the trinity’s interactions compared to a dance.  And this is a metaphor that’s more useful, I think, then comparing the trinity’s interactions to an office, for example, as we do (probably without realizing it) whenever we start trying to wrap our brains around the difference betweeen Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It’s not a bad thing, when we try and deliniate the different jobs, aspects, and importances of the aspects of the trinity.  But I suspect that they are doomed to fail, because doing this fails to account for the organic nature of community.

What do you think: are there any particularly helpful– or unhelpful– ways that you’ve heard people discuss the Trinity?

My Moment of Surrender

There is so much interesting stuff going on, spiritually, on the new U2 C.D.  “Moment of Surrender” might be my favorite song on it, and most of the major themes of the whole C.D. seem to be present on that particular song.  I figured I’d give a shot to unpacking what I think maybe Bono meant.  The whole song is posted, uninterrupted, at the bottom of this post.

(I’m assuming 2 things, here.  The first is that these views aren’t necessarily Bono’s views; it’s a mistake to assume the speaker in a poem or a song is the same person as the writer of the poem or the song.  The second is that these lyrics do in fact mean something.)

Verse 1:

The only change is that 2nd line.  It leaves me thinking that it must be important: Vision over visibility.  After thinking about it, I’ve decided it must be another double-meaning kind-of thing.

On the one hand, vision over visibility means we’re no longer wanting everybody to notice us; (visibility) we’re wanting to see things the way they are (vision.)  On the other hand, it also means we’d rather be graced with religious visions rather than mere visibility, or seeing.

In addition to the relationship between sexuality and spirituality, the themes that seem to be wrestled with through out the C.D. is finding God in the every day, and even in the middle of pain and loss and despair, and trying to work out just how community connects to God.

If you just want to see Bono’s amazing lyrics uninterrupted by my feeble attempts at thinking too hard, they are below:

Moment Of Surrender

I tied myself with wire
To let the horses run free
Playing with the fire
Until the fire played with me

The stone was semi-precious
We were barely conscious
Two souls too cool to be
In the realm of certainty
Even on our wedding day

We set ourselves on fire
Oh God, do not deny her
It’s not if I believe in love
But if love believes in me
Oh, believe in me

At the moment of surrender
I folded to my knees
I did not notice the passers-by
And they did not notice me

I’ve been in every black hole
At the altar of the dark star
My body’s now a begging bowl
That’s begging to get back, begging to get back
To my heart
To the rhythm of my soul
To the rhythm of my unconsciousness
To the rhythm that yearns
To be released from control

I was punching in the numbers at the ATM machine
I could see in the reflection
A face staring back at me
At the moment of surrender
Of vision over visibility
I did not notice the passers-by
And they did not notice me

I was speeding on the subway
Through the stations of the cross
Every eye looking every other way
Counting down ’til the pentecost

At the moment of surrender
Of vision of over visibility
I did not notice the passers-by
And they did not notice me

I tied myself with wire
To let the horses run free
Playing with the fire
Until the fire played with me

Is the idea here that the guy in the son was looking for freedom but found himself enslaved?  Are the horses and fire about our animlastic urges?

When we let these things free, when we live our way, we tie ourselves up, we get burned by the fire, even though we thought we playing with them.  That first verse gives me this idea that there was a guy who just lived the way he wanted to live.  Maybe not a bad guy, just a guy who does what he wants to do when he wants to do it.

Verse 2:
The stone was semi-precious
We were barely conscious
Two souls too cool to be
In the realm of certainty
Even on our wedding day

And so the guy gets married.  He doesn’t fully understand what he’s doing.  He’s not even sure that marriage is an absolute.  But it seems like the thing to do.

(A caveat: the guy that I’m imagining is basically me.  So maybe I’m just projecting.  Maybe this isn’t in the song at all.)

Verse 3:
We set ourselves on fire
Oh God, do not deny her
It’s not if I believe in love
But if love believes in me
Oh, believe in me

Interesting that fire comes up again.  In general, fire is a thing which is necessary but quickly gets out of control.  Biblically, fire is often used for purifying, but is also a symbol of God, as in the burning bush.

And so in this verse, it seems like there’s some realization.  The world is bigger than it seems, perhaps.  Marriage isn’t some casual thing.  Perhaps the idea is that through our animal instincts  is the way that this can come. 

(This is a trait that cuts across many of U2 songs: the idea that we can get  a glimpse of God in sex.  Sometimes, the idea almost seems like we get a sort-of redemption through this.  While I wouldn’t want to make that claim– which was very much held by the Romantics of centuries past, which also gets manifested in lots of works by folks like Nine Inch Nails– I also am unsure whether Bono would agree with this claim or would simply get that it’s a tempting thing to believe.)

At any rate, it seems like the person in this song is confronted with a new reality.   There’s so very much in those last couple lines:  

It’s not if I believe in love
But if love believes in me
Oh, believe in me

Again, perhaps this is all just projection.  But once, I thought the important question was: Do I believe in Love?  And what this really meant was, Is there more than just the rush of hormones associated with chasing after sex?

When I began to see that we are bigger than our chemical highs, when I began to suspect that there was something greater at work in the creation of sex, it became a radically different question.

The question was: If something bigger– way bigger– than natural forces was at work, what does this force think about me?

And perhaps it’s that way for the guy in the song: through a marriage he stumbled into, he begins to see that there is a God.  The question of how this God feels about him is quite an important one.

Next Verse:
At the moment of surrender
I folded to my knees
I did not notice the passers-by
And they did not notice me

And so suddently he is pulled out of the world he has always inhabited.  He realizes that there is something bigger than what people think of him.  He realizes that if this thing is as big as it seems, submitting to it is the only appropirate response.

Firsr Half of the Next Verse:
I’ve been in every black hole
At the altar of the dark star
My body’s now a begging bowl
That’s begging to get back, begging to get back

Before that moment of surrender, the guy was dwarfed by the hugeness of the universe, by the insignificance of our humanity if scientific explanations are the full story.

Verse continues:
To my heart
To the rhythm of my soul
To the rhythm of my unconsciousness
To the rhythm that yearns
To be released from control

Deep inside, he always knew that those explanations, they weren’t right.  That way of living was wrong.  Partially because that way of living meant being in charge and we are made to surrender.

Next verse:
I was punching in the numbers at the ATM machine
I could see in the reflection
A face staring back at me
At the moment of surrender
Of vision over visibility
I did not notice the passers-by
And they did not notice me

And so in the mundane realities of every day life, the guy continues to see this whole other world, a more important one.


Next Verse:
I was speeding on the subway
Through the stations of the cross
Every eye looking every other way
Counting down ’til the pentecost

I struggled with this verse for a while.  Because at first, it seemed like the last line applied to every body.  But if the guy on the subway is the one counting down to the pentecost, it makes a lot more sense.

Nearly everybody else doesn’t see the world as he does.  Nearly everybody else in the world doesn’t recognize that we’re all supposed to be traveling through the stations of the cross.  (I love the play on words: Subway stations/stations of the cross)  Even in this transformed life, it’s not easy.  But we can look to a time where we are transformed, just as the disciples were at the first pentecost.

Next moment:
At the moment of surrender
Of vision of over visibility
I did not notice the passers-by
And they did not notice me

Strategy? Or Manipulation?

I’ve been exploring questions of community and church.   Over the last week I’ve tried to adress two important questions connected to community.  Today, I’ll adress the third. 

That question is “What is the role of strategy in building community in the church?”

I think this question further breaks down into 2 questions, which I’ll adress seperately in this post:

A) Isn’t being strategic really being manipulative? 

B) How important is the specific strategy that Fellowship Church has chosen?

First question first:

I’m open to the possibility that being strategic could mean being manipulative.  It seems like there must be something about the point at which you’re decieving people is the point at which it becomes manipulative.

The thing I don’t quite get, though, is that somehow, the only people who have to justify themselves in this area are the people who talk and think about what they are going to do.  The bottom line is that everybody has a way of doing things. 

I hope you’ll forgive the fact that I’m doing the annoying church-y thing of starting each of these with the same letters.  But what it comes down to is this:

We can be stupid, we can be stubborn, or we can be strategic.  Perhaps I’m slanting each of these by my word choice.   Maybe it would be nicer if I said we can be random, we can be traditional, or we can have logical reasons for doing what we’re doing.  

Ultimately, though, we choose whether we’re going to be traditional, random, or have logical reasons.

And I would say if your randomness or if your tradition are getting you what you want, you ought to keep going in that direction.  My point is that this is still a decision.

People often say “I listen to the Holy Spirit.  That’s what guides me.  It’s not tradition.  It’s not randomness.  It’s not strategic thinking.”

I think this is true.  I think sometimes the church ought to make decisions that appear foolish.  I think that we ought to be open to the Holy Spirit’s prompting.

Here’s a problem, though, and I hope you’ll forgive me  if this sounds accusatory:

As a general rule, most people are very excited to ask others to submit to what they believe the Holy Spirit is prompting them to do.  Often times, the very people who believe  most in this idea are the least likely to submit when the Holy Spirit is telling some one us to do something.

In short, it seems to me that people who believe that the Holy Spirit frequently guides us in directions that aren’t strategic, often times these people believe the we ought to listen to these people, and not other people, about just what we ought to do. 

I’m so thankful that God is a God of order, logic, and rationality.  I am so very thankful that many times  the Holy Spirit’s promptings are justifiable in terms of logic and rationality. 

I would submit that The Holy Spirit’s promptings are cultivatived in a culture which is carefully exploring the rationale and reasons for what it does.

The other subquestion is: How important is Fellowship Church’s specific strategy?

Leading people into a growing relationship with Jesus is the point.  Community is the best way to get there.  We’re building community in the best way that we know how for the time and place we exist in.

A really great guy who attended our church was not attending a small group.  He said to somebody “Look, I’m not going to do something just because everybody else is.  My small group is this weekly gathering of men at Finders.  My small group is my friendship with Pastor Marty.  I don’t need to show up at the time I’m told and the place I’m told.”

He’s not wrong.   If he’s careful.

His argument isn’t altogether different from somebody who says “Look, I don’t need to go to church.  I can worship God in the forest, I should be worshipping him all the time, right?  Why limit myself to just once a week?”

My answer is that church doesn’t set an upper limit on worship– it sets a lower limit.  Similarly, small group doesn’t limit people into being in only one community.  But it does guarentee that the person is in atleast one community.

A person who thinks the forest is a better place to worship than church, he is likely to start with the best of intentions.  But I think it’s pretty easy for him to get off-track, and not worship at all.

And a person who isn’t intentional about community, I think it’s easy for him to drift from belonging to showing up to a group, to not showing up at all.

Our implementation of community is not perfect.  It’s somewhat relative to our culture.  But it is one valid way to reach the goal of community.  And the scary-dangerous things is that there are lots of imposters to community, lots of ways we can delude ourselves…

And while the specific form of community is a bit up-for-grabs, for my money, the goal of community in general is not up-for-grabs.  It is an essential.

Is Community Optional?

The last couple weeks, I’ve found myself involved with a number of conversations that were quite similiar.  Each of them was really about community, and the role of the church in cultivating community.

(Church here meaning both the global church in general and Fellowship Church in particular.)

I identified three questions that were worth looking at.  The one I’m focused on today:

Is community optional?

I think the answer to that question is “No.”

In one of the conversations I’ve had about community, the other person said, essentially, that they felt like a community-oriented church is o.k.  for people who are into community.  But they suggested that others might prefer a church that wasn’t focused on community.  Perhaps they’d be into a “Spirit-filled” church.  Maybe they’d prefer a church which was more doctrinally-driven.

First off, I think that The Holy Spirit works through community and lives in the space between them.  Secondly, I think that one of the most important doctrines a church can have is an emphasis on community.  Therefore, either a community-focused church will be spirit filled and a doctrinally based church must emphasize community.

I am not saying that every church should be like my church in most ways.  There are countless negotiable aspects of a church.  I would go so far as to suggest that there is more solid scriptural support for the importance of community than there is for having music at all in a worship service.  I would go so far as to say that there is more solid scriptural support for the importance of community than there is for the idea that a church ought to have a building, than there is for the idea that a service ought to fit the music-sermon-music/offering format.    I bet I’m going to make some people mad on this one, but I’ve even say you have to work harder to find the notion of the trinity in the bible than you do to find the importance of community.

I am not saying that scripture does not support any of the above ideas, particularly the trinity.  I am saying that the evidence seems more clear and plain for the importance of community.

I am also not saying that community is all a church needs.  But it’s almost all.  I haven’t studied this question, but tenatively, I would venture the position that worship of God, recognition that Christ rose from the grave, and community are the only true essentials for a group to be called a church.

I would submit that you can’t have love without community, and that you can’t have community with out love.  If I’m right on this, then some of the support I’d offer for the importance of community follow:

* Jesus saying that the most important thing is love of God and love of neighbor.

* Jesus saying that by our love they show know us.

* Paul saying that speaking in every language, prophesying, understanding everything, these are essentially meaningless without love.

I think it’d be easy to find verses that discuss the importance of other things.  I think it’d be quite difficult to point to verses that establish other things as more important than love.

What’s the point of community?

Several times in the last couple weeks, I’ve been involved in a series of similiar conversations.  They were people who didn’t know each other very well, and for the most part, they were people unaware that I’d already had this conversation.

These conversations have lead me to thinking about the topic a bit.  And they’ve lead me to the realization that it’s worthwhile to post on the topic, as maybe other people are wondering about the same thing.  (And even if those people aren’t among the 3 people who actually read this blog, I can always cut and paste or link from this post in an email, or I can send them a link to this post.)

O.K.  Enough with the boring back story.  The conversations have been about community.  More specifically, the questions have boiled down to:

Is community a means to an end or is community an ends by itself?


Is being focused on creating community optional for the church, or is it mandatory?


Does being strategic mean that a church is being manipulative?

First question first:

In some of my earlier discussion, I told people that community is a means and an end.  I had some good reasons for saying this.  The point I was trying to get at was that even if we took away the positive benefits of community, community would still be worth doing.

Community creates authenticity.  It calls members out to hold each other accountabality.   Feeling a sense of community leads collections of people to be more effective as they reach out to the world around them.  Being in a community is the best place to take care of people.  Belonging to a community is the best way to learn biblical truth.

But even if none of those things were true, community would still be worth pursuing.  Because of this, it originally seemed to me that we don’t just “do” community as a means, we also seek it out as an end.  But as I’ve reflected on this, I decided that this isn’t quite right.

At Fellowship Church, we express our ultimate goal as “To lead people in a growing relationship with Christ.”

If somebody could wave some evil magic wand, and make it so that community did not lead to this growing relationship, then we would have to give up on community.  Even if community continued to do all those other things.

Leading people into a growing relationship with Christ is the end.  Community isn’t. 

The other two questions are so intimately connected to this one.  Because if we realize that community is a means to the end of relationship with Christ, the follow-up questions become: “Are there other ways to reach this end?”  And this question is really the same thing as  “Is being focused on creating community optional for the church, or is it mandatory?”  The next natural follow up becomes “Should this community just be allowed to pop up naturally or should we plan for it?”  This question, really, is the same thing as “Does being strategic mean that a church is being manipulative?”

So, in the next couple days I’ll be getting to those questions.  Stay tuned.


I’ve been contemplating the topic of “community and technology.”  I was invited to participate in a synch-blog on the topic.  I guess the idea is that a number of bloggers all explore the same topic.  The result, presumably, is a number of different perspectives on the same issue.  I’m looking foreward to reading these.  I hope you will, too.

The bottom line for me: the internet and other technology  pose a danger to authentic community.  There are ways that this all can be used as an aide to help things along within a real community.  But they also pose a temptation, a risk.

We often throw around words like online community.  I’d like to challenge this thought a little bit.  I’d go so far as to suggest that it’s nearly impossible to have a community where the people aren’t dealing with each other on a face-to-face basis regularly.

I think that we can fool ourselves into thinking that we’re in community with people.  I think that we can feel like we’re in community.   When we have these online relationships, they can feel so much more satisfying than our flesh-and-blood relationships.  They can be so efficient, easy, and convenient.

And the real danger is in this efficiency, this ease, and this convenience.

I believe that one of the biggest reasons that real community is so important is because of the ways real community challenges us.   There are special brands of selfishness that are never challenged if we never live in real community.  There are important ways that we will never suffer if we never live in real community.

In a real community or an online one, we can laugh with people and we can cry with people.  And these are important things to do.  But only in a real community can we actually sweat with each other, serve with each other, work for each other.

In a real community or an online one, people know the things that I want them to know about me.  And this is also important.  But in a real community, the things that I don’t want people to know, the parts of me I am ashamed of, the parts of me I am afraid of, these begin to trickle out.  When I can sit back and easily contemplate the exact word choice on an instant message or email, I can manufacture who I am.  But when I’m in a face-to-face conversation, I say the the things I really think and feel.  They might not always be wise or kind.  But they are real.

In a real community or an online one, I can prioritize my time so that we are able to spend time together, just focused on each other.  But a real community eventually integrates itself into my every day life.  We don’t just talk deep talks and think deep thoughts: we do mundane, silly, every day things together: shopping, shoveling out the sidewalk.

Generally, my participation in an online community is on my terms: my interactions happen when I want something from the group.  My participation in a real community, though, this happens when the community needs me.  It’s so easy to walk away from online interactions.  It’s so easy to just stop showing up.  People in real communities are available to each other, even when they don’t want to be.

I realize that there might be online communities which defy my expectations.  I am positive that there are face-to-face communities which are so shallow and superficial.  And increasingly, our relationships straddle over this divide: we both interact through technology and face-to-face with people.

I’m a blogger and a voracious emailer.  I do get it.  There are people who I’ve never met face to face and I wish so desperately that I had met them in the real world.

But I know that there are very few things that are more important than real community.  We don’t need casual friendships.  We don’t need long email lists, or blogs with thousands of readers.  We need community.

Community is sometimes hard work.  It’s sometimes messy and just plain hard.   Real community can hurt us in a way that very few other things touch.

And so when we’re faced with a psuedo-community, with community-light (half the commitment and all the flavor or ordinary community!) It can be easy to jump at this chance.

The relationships we form, the interactions we have might not be bad things, unto themselves.  But the real community that we might engage in suffers.  Because real community takes time.  If we allow our time to be swallowed up by unimportant things, we end up with none left for the important ones.  And if we rationalize that our needs are getting met, we can fool ourselves into thinking that we don’t need real community at all, and our worlds grow smaller and smaller, shrinking down to ourselves at the center of the technological web.  Our cells phones, internet connections, lap tops, twitters, blogs, web pages, facebooks: these are these strands that reach out from where we are to the far corners of the earth.

But the problem with being at the center of this web is this: it’s easy to think that we’re the spider who spun the web.  But the truth is that we’re the prey, stuck to the strands and about to be eaten.

For a couple other really interesting takes on the topic of “community and technology”:

Jeff Goins is putting a positive spin on the answer to the question, Can online community exist?

Paul Vasilko shares about A surprise in his inbox



A week from today (That’s Sunday, December 28, 2008) I’ll be sharing the message at Fellowship Church.  

What follows is a transcript of what I’ll probably be saying.  I’d love for comments, criticism, and all the rest as I continue to hone what I think God is trying to say through me.

(God I think, might use you, and your comments to help shape this message)

The last couple weeks in New England have seen an ice-storm that turned the state into a Federal disaster area and a pair of near-blizzards.  I know a number of people who are suffering in a variety of ways.  This has lead to some thoughts that haven’t yet made it into this message, but probably will in the final draft… Other than that, my best guess is that this is pretty close to complete.  (Though it won’t be word-for-word; I won’t stand there and simply read these words.  That’d be painful.)


Intro/Beverly Hillbillies/Jesus Elevated Community


My name is Jeff Campbell.



I hope you had an awesome Christmas.

Given that we’re at a church I think it makes sense to spend a minute to take stock of one of the things this holiday  really means.


I want to be clear.  Whole books have been written about what Christmas means.  We could probably spend a year on this topic and not exhaust it.  I’m not here to offer an exhaustive list of all the meanings of Christmas.


Instead, I’d like to focus on one important one.


And the way I’d like to get at that is to imagine a scenario.


Imagine that you live in a nice suburb somewhere.  Nicely manicured lawns.  Late model cars in the driveways.  Teen agers who rebel in the expected, appropriate, and prescribed ways.


Maybe the house next to yours got sold a while ago.  You’re wondering who the new folks are going to be.  The question I want to ask you is this:

What do you think?


What do you think if you you can hear them before you can see them… if there’s some horrible screeching sound coming from their engine, and a scraping of the muffler along the ground?  What do you think if you can smell them before you see them, an unwashed smell, a burning rubber smell?  What do you think if you hear them howling and yee-hawing, and when they finally come in to view, they look like some kind of modern-day Beverly hillbillies?


Probably, at some point, you say “There goes the neighborhood.”


On the other hand, what if they have a nicer car than you?  What if they are clearly wealthy?  What if they are famous?  What if Bill Gates moves in right next door.


Most of, we would think, wow.  Our community has just been elevated. 


Elevating community is what I want to talk about today. 

And I want to start with the idea that it’s already happened.  The whole world was made through Jesus.  He existed in perfect fellowship with the father and the holy spirit.  He watched below.


He watched below as our ancestors mostly did the same stuff that we all do every day.  They turned their backs on what God offered.  They lived in a way that did not glorify their creator.  They betrayed him, they betrayed each other.  They lived greedily, they lived destructively, they lived lustfully.


Jesus moved into the neighborhood anyway.  He entered into this greedy, destructive world that had turned it’s back on him.

This is an incredibly serious thing and I don’t mean it lightly when I say we were a million times trashier than the Beverly hillbillies.  I don’t mean it lightly when I say he’s a million times more impressive than Bill Gates. 


Jesus moved into the neighborhood.

He moved into the neighborhood of humanity for humanity.


And that’s amazing news and I hope you feel all Christmas happy as you let this sink in.

Sermon series/What is the best way to elevate community?/ The Beatles

Over these last few several weeks, Marty has taken us through several principles that we practice as a church and that we hope you practice as individuals.  These are principles which strengthen, empower, and life up the family.  Today I’m here to talk to you about empowering community.

This is a broad, huge topic.  One approach to this topic would be to find some story or idea illustrated by the bible.  Then to figure out some specific action steps.  Then I could find a way to make them all start with the same letter.  Or make them all be initials that spell out some word.


I don’t want to do that today.  Instead of giving you four things to do or three things to think about, I want to challenge you to get in the habbit of  asking just one question:

What is the best way to elevate community?


Jesus answer was so relevant, this time of year: he entered into it.  He came down to Earth. 

But before we can really explore this question, it might be worthwhile to think about what a community is.  This is a pretty difficult question.  Perhaps we can begin with the idea of a group.  That’s a little bit easier.


Let’s think about The Beatles for a minute.  Most of know that The Beatles were John, Paul, George and Ringo.

If I asked you how you feel about The Beatles, you might answer that you like them.  If I did that, I’d expect, basically, that you’d have the same answer if I said “When John, Paul, Ringo, and George get together and make music, how do you feel about them?”

Maybe you love them.  Maybe you hate them.  But The Beatles are really nothing more than those four guys.  It wouldn’t make sense to say “Yeah, I hate the beatles, but I love the music that John, Paul, George, and Ringo made together.”


Similarly, I might say “Jesus came for John, Paul, George, and Ringo.”

Or I might say “Jesus came  for the Beatles.”


If I said this, I wouldn’t be saying that The Beatles were good or bad.  I wouldn’t be saying that they went to Heaven or that they went to Hell, and I wouldn’t be saying that Jesus came focused on groups.  Certainly he came for them as individuals.  But when I name that group, it’s like a shorthand way of mentioning each of the individuals.”


The people of Jesus time, they had trouble with a group called the Samiritans.  It would have been hard for Jesus followers to hear “Jesus came for the Samiritans.”  But he did.

And it’s easy for us to think “oh, those primitive disciples.  They just didn’t get it.”


So I’d like to try a thought experiment with you.  I’ve got a list.  It’s kind of a long one.  I’m going to read it.  And while I do, you of course, have two choices.

Jesus Came for…/Reductionism/Capitalism

One is to tune out.  Wonder what I’m going to say next.  You can sit there and write your grocery list on the offering envelope, and whisper to your neighbors.

Or you can take this in.  Let it penetrate.  Find the uncomfortable places and wonder about those.  The truth is that I struggle with parts of this list.  I bet you will too.  That’s all the more reason we ought to ought to really work on this.

So let’s sit back.  Really focus.  Wrap our brains around the truth of all this:

Jesus came here for you.

Jesus came here for me.

Jesus came here for the person sitting next to you.

Jesus came here for the person behind you.

Jesus came here for the person you wish was here but who didn’t come today.

He came for your family.

He came here for your coworkers.

He came for the people who live on your street.

He came here for all the people who live in your city.

He came here for the rich.

He came here for the poor.

He came here for the person who pretends to be homeless but really isn’t.

He came here for the millionaire who lies on his taxes so he doesn’t have to pay any more.

He came here for President Bush.

He came here for President-Elect Obama.

He came here for the Republicans.

He came here for the Democrats.

He came here for the people in this church.

He came here for the people in churches like this one.

He came here for the people in the churches which are not like this one.

He came here for the people who would never ever go to church at all.

He came here for the Buddhists, the Hindus, the Taoists, the Muslims.

He came here for the victims of violent crime.

He came here for the victims of terrorism.

He came here for the soldier’s in our armies.

He came for the peace makers.

He came here for the members of Al-Qada.

He came here for the perpetrators of violent crimes.

He came here for the warmongers. 


I think that it’s easy to miss how important groups are to who we really are. 

Probably the most significant reason is that we live in an individualistic world.  We emphasize the power of the individual.  We worship self reliance.  We proclaim our independence.

There was a Dutch Psychologist who worked for IBM.  He went all over the world and interviewed people for the company.  He ended up with this tremendous database that contains tens of thousands of interviews from people all over the world.

His research is still cited and recognized as authoritative around how people within a given culture tend to approach a wide variety of issues.

One of the things he did was assess where countries are on the individualistic-collective scale.  I was unsurprised to find that he determined that the most individual and least collective country in the world was the United States.


There are all kinds of reasons why this is the case.  There’s one I’d like to focus on.  is this idea that is closely connected to science.  The idea is called “reductionism.”

Reductionism is very had to separate to science.  It’s not bad, when it’s left in science.

Put simply, reductionism is the belief that the best way to understand a thing is to look at the parts that make that thing up.  The belief is that if you understand the parts, you understand the thing.

Consider a fish.  Or a watch.  If you wanted to know what was inside of them, you could carve them up.  You could list the parts and name them and describe what they look like and how much they weigh.

But science is more than reductionism.   You couldn’t put the watch back together again very easily.  And you couldn’t put the fish back together at all.  The fish or the watch wouldn’t be very useful any more.  You can never find out what the pieces do, within the fish or the watch, if you separate them.


Some very well intentioned people who probably did not even realize how infected they’d become by the idea of reductionism felt called to fufill Jesus’ message.

They wanted to share the gospel.  And they proceeded in just exactly the same way.

They began by observing that their were whole communities that had not heard of Jesus.  And they noticed that these communities were made up of people.  And they separated them. 


We send the kids over here.  We send the adults over there.  The twenty-somethings go into this room.  The forty-somethings go into that room.


We all stand alone together in church.

We read our bibles alone, we prayed alone, we saw the pastor once in a great while– alone.


Even before Jesus they would have been keyed into this idea.  At Jesus time, when they read scripture, they read it together.  Many of them had to, because they couldn’t read at all.

It’s an amazing thing that we live in a world where you can buy a bible for five dollars– or steal one for free from a hotel room.  Living in a society with nearly universal literacy is amazing.

But there’s an ugly side to all this.  We’ve been divided.  Our belief in community has been broken.

And so what the church has done, sometimes, is to find people who were involved in communities and tell them that these communities are not very important.  We’ve been told people that all they need is Jesus. 

Sometimes they’ve bought into Jesus’ good news anyway, and they’ve left their communities behind.  Other times they’ve seen what we’re trying to offer them and they are not interested.

Community in Bible, Movies, Real Life

We need people.   And we see it in the  bible.

Early on, God recognizes that it is not good for man to be alone.  And not long after that, Adam’s unhealthy need for community causes more destruction than any decision ever.


Men like Abraham are called out of their communities and have the faith to go.  Jacob begins with twelve sons: a family community.  These twelve sons end up having their own familes: twelve family community.  These twelve families eventually give rise to twelve tribes.  Each tribe eventually is made up of tens and hundreds of thousands of families. 

There is Elijah who falls apart when he feels like he has no community.  And Jesus who gathers the disciples together into community and sends them out  to infiltrate all the communities of the world.

You would be hard-pressed to point to a single book of the bible where communities are not central to what is going on.

It’s tempting to view scripture as instructions in how to be.  I’d argue that in fact it’s instruction about how to be together.

It’s tempting to view scripture as instructions about who to be.  I’d argue that more often, it’s filled with instructions about who we should be when we’re together.

The Old Testament often looks more like a penal code than a self-help book.  The rules and laws aren’t just about how to live: they are about how to live in community. 

 But perhaps that is not persuasive to you.  I don’t think you have to be a follower of Christ to get the importance of community.


Let’s think about a couple movies.

Have you ever seen “Cast Away”.  In the movie, Tom Hanks gets ship wrecked.  If you weren’t thinking to deeply, you might think “That whole movie, it disproves the point.  That’s a whole movie, and pretty much the whole thing,  it’s just Tom Hanks alone.  He doesn’t need people.”

But there a part of that movie that pretty much all of us connect with.  It’s when Tom Hanks ends up reshaping a volleyball to look like a Human face.  He calls it Wilson.  He talks to Wilson.  Wilson becomes his friend.

And we connect with this.  It’s incredibly funny and incredibly sad because we all know that we would do the same thing.  If we were stuck, for a long time alone, the only way we would maintain our sanity is if we went a little bit crazy.  We know that we would create people to be with.  We would all make Wilson, if we were in that character’s shoes.


We see a variation on this theme in the film “I am Legend”.  To the best of his knowledge, Will Smith is the last person alive.  But he uses store mannequins to create this whole world for himself.  He gives the imaginary people personality.  There’s a point that he’s all unshaven and pathetic looking, and he’s practically crying, begging the mannequin to speak to him.  But of course it doesn’t.  It’s like he’d rather be insane than alone.  While watching this movie with our good friend Kara, she said, “I’d rather die than be all alone like that.”


We’d rather lose touch with reality than be alone; we’d rather die than be alone.  These feelings are close to universal.


And if you’re not moved by these references to movies, let me ask a few questions:


What is the best thing that ever happened to you?

What is the worst thing that ever happened to you?

What role did community play in these events?


There might be a few of the best– or worst– times in your life that weren’t intimately connected to community.  There might be a small number of things that were important and that happened simply and only to you.

If they did, it’s my prayer that one of the first things you thought, when either the best or the worst thing happened to you was this: I’m going to share this with _____.  Somebody, or maybe a group of people.

But maybe not.  Maybe you didn’t have anybody in your life when that very important thing happened.  If you didn’t, I’m willing to bet one of the very first things you thought was: wow, I wish I had somebody to share this with.


It might be that you were around people all the time but you didn’t have anybody to share it with.  It might be that you didn’t see anybody very often but you new exactly who we were going to tell.

We can’t measure how well connected you are by measuring the number of people who are physically near you.  We all know that we can be alone but not lonely.  We all know that we can be so desperately alone, even in the middle of the crowd.

Dif. Between communities and groups/ Reductionism vs community/2 case studies

Being in the middle of a bunch of people does not connect us.  Being in the middle of a community does. 


There’s a difference between communities and groups.


Groups aren’t bad things.  But we really aren’t wired to belong to groups.  What we need– what some of us know we need- are communities. 

I spent a while trying to find a good definition of community.  Trying to get at the difference between these two things.   After plodding through dictionaries, word history, and illustrations, I’d like to propose that this is the best way to look at community:

A community is a group where the sum is greater than the parts that make it up.


That sentence is almost a cliché.  We hear it all the time and so it’s easy to gloss over it.  But it’s really a pretty strange idea.  In our every day life, we’re used to the idea that if we have eight of something here, and five of something here, we’ll bring them together and have thirteen.

But in a real community, something magical happens.  We add eight of this with five of that and we get something bigger than thirteen.


Whether or not a community has Jesus at the center of it, if it is a true community when its members are together they add up to more than they would, more than they should.  Members are able to cover up each others weaknesses and they are able to build upon each others strengths.


At Fellowship church we call them small groups because they start as just groups.  An assortment of people whose sum is equal to the number that make it up.  When they first meet, nobody is covering up anybody’s weaknesses.  Nobody is building on anybody’s strengths.

It’s just a random assortment of people.  And if those people are honest with each other, they’ll admit they find each other weird, annoying, hard to understand.

But something magical happens.  The small group becomes a community as time goes by.  In my current small group there are all these amazing people.   One of them will tell me exactly what she thinks.  Another is so very full of love.  One of the member has this awesome ability to not make things more complicated than they need to be.  This person is just amazing at simplifying.  Some of the people in this group have this wisdom and experience that is so valuable.  Others have this youthful enthusiasm that I feel so invigorated by. 


Here’s the thing: if you gave me a bunch of people like the loving person, I suppose we’d have a good time holding hands and singing coom-by-yay, but seriously, this would just be a group.  It wouldn’t be a community.  There’d be nobody present to compensate for the fact that we all wear our hearts on our sleeves.


If everybody in the group had that special knack for making things as simple as they should be, it would be unnecessary.  The reason that this person is so valuable is because I have this tendency to make things more complicated than they need to be.


But there’s another way that the idea of the sum being more than the total of the parts plays out.


When I’m a member of a group, I’m only as valueable as the things I can do for that group.  For most of us, our job is a place where we are part of a group, not part of a community.


In my case, I’m a teacher.  My boss cares about how well I teach.  And fill out paper work.  And follow the education laws.  And deal with parents.

He might not be interested in the fact that I make mighty fine chocolate covered potato chips.


But there is more to me than those things.

There is more to you than whatever you do at your job.


You are more than the total of the tasks you do.  You are are greater than just the list of things you provide.


A community cares about more than just the things you bring to it.  A community cares about who you are.  If it’s a real community then they want to know things about you, even if those things couldn’t possibly benefit or effect the members.


The truth is, that like you, my small group would probably never want to eat my chocolate covered potato chips.  Like most of you, they have yet to recognize that the union of chocolate, salt, and crunch is a little slice of heaven.

But the people in my small group, they value that there is stuff about me that I don’t do with them or for them.  It matters to them that I make chocolate covered potato chips.


In short:

A community is greater than the people who make it up.

And every person within a community is worth more than just the list of things they do for that group.


Can you see how this flies in the face of reductionism?

Reductionism says that you can understand a group by adding up the effectiveness of it’s members. 

Reductionism says that the value of the members is an outgrowth of just exactly what that person does for the group.


Deep inside we know that reductionism is wrong.  And we are so desperate for community that we will seek out unhealthy ones rather than not have one.  The other day, I saw a bumper sticker.  It said “If you make people believe absurdities, they will be willing to commit atrocities.”  Now those words barely fit onto the bumper sticker as it was.  But I’d add something to that, if I could.  I’d say “People use the power of community to make people believe in absurdities.  Belieiving in these absurdities, that can lead to atrocities.”

I’d like to read you a few passages from folks who ended up in some pretty bad communities:

Dianetics was where it began for me. I bought the book at a local
bookstore in Chicago after seeing an infomercial late the night before.
Sitting in the parking lot, I read a quater of book, mesmerized. I
brought the book everywhere. At work I started reading it on breaks and
lunch. I started informing my coworkers of the miracle of Dianetics and
L. Ron Hubbard. It was my bible.

Halfway through the book I stepped into the world of the totally free.
The Church of Scientology in Chicago was a block from the YMCA where I
was living. Walking by several times before actually entering the
building, I noticed that everyone inside looked happy and positive.
Finally I decided to enter the building.

I had the Dianetics paperback in my hand and asked the receptionist if I
could get some more information on the subject. She asked me if I had
read it and, if so, had I used a dictionary. I told her that I did not
need a dictionary, because the book was easy to understand. She gave me
a strange look and seated me on a large white leather sofa in the public
area. There were so many books and tapes and pictures of L. Ron Hubbard
that I felt overwhelmed. Everyone who passed by said ‘Hello’ and smiled.
A beautiful women sat next to me and asked my name. We talked about
Dianetics and how it had changed her life. I had not had a conversation
with a pretty women in a long time. She shook my hand and said that she
hoped to see me again. I did not leave for nearly a year.

This is how they got me. A peaceful, family like, environment where
everyone was my friend. Promises of freedom from all that ever held me
back from achieving my dreams. A promise of truth with a money-back

If you know the tenants of dianetics, you know that they are pretty silly.  You might know that it’s sounds like a bad science fiction movie because it was authored by a famous science fiction writer.

The truth or falsity isn’t what that guy was looking for.  It was the community.

Or consider this article:

It’s a Thursday afternoon and a worried Ventura mother named Kari says she hasn’t seen her teenage son in four days. He and his older brother drifted into the white power movement a few years ago, and she lost all control of them.

Kari’s eyes fill with tears as she explains that she simply doesn’t know what happened. She never taught them to be racists, she says. But she knows she wasn’t home as much as she should have been. There wasn’t as much guidance as there might have been, she says.

In many ways, Mike fits the profile of the typical white power believer.

Later, the article continues

Soon he began using drugs regularly. In the ninth grade, Mike dropped out of school. And at 17, he joined a white supremacist gang.

“They believed in what I believed in,” he said. “They were like my family. I felt like I was at home. I’d ride with them and I’d feel proud.”


Christ-centered community/ The mystery of oneness/ Joining Jesus revolution


It’s not enough for us to recognize the importance of community.  We have to do better than just using it as a tool to get people to become Christians.  Sometimes, we treat community like the junk food  at youth group.  We act like it’s not really connected to the gospel but it’s a convenient way to get people there.

And if we want to really elevate community, we’ve got to be see this as more than just a defensive move.  We can’t simply maneuver people into our communities as a way to keep them out of other communities.


For us to share Jesus view of community, we have recognize that Jesus didn’t just want a collection of individual Christians.  He wanted a Christian community.  He wanted us to gather in groups where we were able to experience that cumalitive adding of our strengths and that mitigating of our weaknesses.  He wanted us to gather so that he could show up in a special way.




Matthew 18:20 (New International Version)

20For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

There’s no way around a very simple fact: Jesus shows up in a unique way to communities.  One of the most amazing descriptions of why this happens and what it means can be found in John 17.  Jesus is speaking to God, mostly about his followers.  This is what he says:

13“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17Sanctify[b] them by the truth; your word is truth. 18As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

Jesus Prays for All Believers

 20“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

This is confusing.   Through this whole passage, this is inside of that and that’s inside of this and God gave this to Jesus and then Jesus gave it to the disciples…  It almost feels like a clue game.  I read through it and I want to conclude “The Holy Spirit did it in the Conseveratory with a candlestick.”  One problem is that theirs some language that doesn’t pop up into our every day lives.  A little later, I’m going to come back to the word “sanctify” as it appears above.  But more than this,

I think it’s supposed to be confusing.  One of the central mysteries of Christianity is the mystery of the trinity.  The idea is that Jesus, God, and The Holy Spirit are somehow separate from each other… and yet they are not separate, too.

In this passage, this mystery is linked to the mystery of community itself.  The followers are one with each other.  And they are one with Jesus.  And they are one with God the father. This is dizzying math.  We begin with a group of people.  If they are a community than they are more than the sum of their parts.  But somehow, through, Jesus, they are made to be only one.  First those who followed Jesus were made one.  And then those who heard from them… Do you realize if you are a Christ follower, that you are one with people who walked with Jesus?  If you are a Christ follower you are one with Mathew, Mark, Luke and John.  There is an unbroken chain of believers between you and them, and you are one with all of them.

When we think about the topic of elevating community, it’s easy to think that this is something that we ought to be doing by ourselves and under our own power.  It’s easy to look at this like some brand new idea.


Jesus community revolution started 2000 years ago.  It’s not something that we have to start, it’s simply something for us to get on board with.


When I look at history I see a lot of people who claimed to follow Christ.   Many of them, for all kinds of reasons, opposed things Jesus was in favor of.  They favored things Jesus opposed.  They were on the wrong sides of issues.  Some of the last people to give up on the idea of a flat earth,  some of the last people to give up on the idea that white skin or maleness makes you superior claim to be Christ followers.


Others were innovators.  The church gave rise to some of the very first people who opposed slavery.  The church gave rise to some of the very first people who supported women’s rights.  The church gave rise to some of the very first people who championed education and fought against evils like child labor.


I’d like to be on Jesus side of the issues.   Jesus side is this: communities matter.


Question Revisited/ Elevating communities that exist/ creating new ones

And this brings us back to the question I posed a while ago: What is the best way to elevate community?

 the first thing we need to do is shift our way of thinking.

For too long, we’ve had this restaurant mentality of the gospel.  We’re going to cook up what we think people need.  And we’re going to wait for them to come to us.  And if they show up, we’ll serve them.  But only if they meet the dress code.


We ought to have a domino’s pizza mentality.  Dominos figured out what they do–they make pizzas.  And then they bring this out into the world, they find the people where they actually are.


Jesus attracted his very first disciples by taking a walk along the shore.  He saw brothers who were fishing together and he invited them together.  He invested in his disciples, and he trained them, and then he set them back out into the world, where his disciples entered into the communities that already were.


It’s fair to ask: what does this look like today?

And I think the answer is this:

We go to the places where there aren’t Christians.  We continue to do many of the things we did before we were Christians.  We gather with football buddies or soccer moms, or God save us from Sarah Pallin, Joe six packs.  We spend time in the places we enjoy spending time… at the mall or the coffee house or the pool hall.

In short, the first thing we do is identify that communities are all around us.  Families are potential communities, sports teams are potential communities, neighborhoods and clubs are potential communities.  Even street gangs, white supremacist groups, cults, abusive, sinful, and unhealthy relationships: These may be evil.  We might be called to fight what they are doing.  But one part of this fight is to recognize how deeply and desperately we desire community.


I think the true is that we overplay this.  I’m not going to show up at that community.  They are up to nothing good over there.    It’s easy and safe and comfortable to be a member of a community that places Jesus at the center in an obvious way.  But instead of running away from those communities that don’t, what would happen if we worked on bringing Jesus into the center of these communities.

How do we do this?  We can talk about Jesus in the same way that we’d talk about any other important aspect of our life.  We show them his love and how he changes and redeems.  We’re told by our love that people will know we follow Christ.  Do we live this out?


The fact that we should elevate the communities that are out there does not mean that we shouldn’t build new ones.

In fact the next thing we need to do, I think, is recognize that community is not one optional path to conveying the gospel.  Community is the only way we’re going to experience the fullness of what Jesus offered.  There are important facets of our spiritual lives that are solitary.  But we are such a solitary society that generally we’re pretty good at these, already.  And regardless of how good we are at our indididual morning devotionals, regardless of how much we like our alone time, this does not change the fact that community is not optional.

And furthermore, community is not a vacation from everyday life.  I used to feel this way.  I had this idea when I first participated in small groups that they ought to be this place away from my troubles, this little slice of heaven away from the realities of my every day life.

Remember the good fun that we had in the ice storm a couple weeks ago?  That prevented my group from meeting on the night it normally would.  We couldn’t get together and talk about the sermon.  We couldn’t share snacks and hang out for a while in a little enclave, away from all our troubles.

It just so happened that we were some of the lucky ones.  We have electricity through the whole thing.  Our car was undamaged.  Our streets were passable.

We had the privilege of putting up one of our members who didn’t have electricity but had a small baby.  My eldest son and I were able to spend a couple hours at another small group members house.  We were clearing the branches that crushed their yard.



I’m not trying to potray myself as the hero, here.  The people whose driveway we cleared have rescued us on more than one occasion.  The mom we put up in our house regularly watches our kids.  I have received so much more than I have given from the members of small groups.  God was kind enough to put me in a position to help others out this time around.

The point I’m trying to make is that it only looks like we had to cancel small group that week.  We actually had it in a much more important way.  All those other times when we sat around and read the bible together, or ate, or laughed, or talked about God, they were laying the ground work for me being able to help them out during the ice storm.

I’m not saying that God is happy to inflict natural disasters.  I’m not saying that the reason for them is simply to build community.  This would be incredibly insensitive to the real human suffering that occurs.

But I am saying that God made the universe in such a way that real good comes out of real struggles.

Some of you lost more than just power.  You lost portions of your homes.  You lost cars.  You lost hundreds of dollars in food.  You lost you’re a sense of security.  You lost some of what you were going to use for Christmas.

It wasn’t easy and fun for you to have to share your needs with others.  And it isn’t easy and fun to give sacrificially to meet those needs.

But I know that this has happened, in so many case. 

I know that some needs have probably gone unspoken.  And I know that others have been unmet.  While I feel sorry for these, I also want to celebrate the real community that has gone on where we have come together and become greater than the parts.

Hard question vs easy questions why we do it versus what we do

The last thing, the most important thing:

In our every day lives we ask: What can I do to elevate the communities that we are in?


It’s easy to ask “What is the easiest thing for me to do in the communities that I am in?”

It’s easy to ask “What can I do to elevate myself in the communities that I am in?”

But it’s so very hard to ask the most important question:

What can I do to elevate the whole community?

The scripture we read earlier today focuses on oneness in all sorts of ways.

We often think that being one means that we don’t dissent from the group.  We follow the party line.  We don’t disagree.


I’m not sure that this is right.

In a way, each of us already is a community.  We are made up of different parts that sometimes disagree.  My heart might be telling me to do one thing.  My head is telling me another.  If I’m wise I pay careful attention to each.


Within a group, you might be the head.  You might be the heart.  You might be the soul.  Your voice is needed… sometimes.  Disention and arguing can tear a group apart, of course, when they happen at the wrong time, and in the wrong way.



A powerful community, a Jesus-centered community, is one where a question that runs through everybody’s mind, often is “How can I most elevate this community?”

There are times that is best for the group to speak up.  There are times when it is best for the group that we are silent.  And there is so much more than this:

There are going to be times when it is best for the group to receive something we don’t want to give.  Our time.  Our resources.  Our attention.

Mine, mine, mine.

But if I see it as only mine, I’m taking it back from the community.  If I see it as only mine, it’s only going to be worth exactly as much as it is.


I give up my time, my resources, my attention over to a community which has Jesus in the center, then the sum of these offerings will be worth more than the parts.  It’s not so different from when Jesus used these small little pieces of food to feed hundreds and thousands of people: the sum of what we get is more than the total of the parts that we put in.



This is so hard.  And this brings us back to the idea of being sanctified.  I promised you we’d get back to the word.  In the passage we read today Jesus said

19For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.”

It’s not a very fun word, sanctified.  We wouldn’t think of it as a party to say “Hey, let’s go out and get sanctified together who-hoo.”  In Hebrews 13, Jesus speaks of sanctifying through his blood.  In the passage we’re talking about, Jesus is quite focused on his upcoming crucifiction.  Perhaps he’s refererring to it here.

The whole word carries this idea of being separated, made better, or purified through difficult experiences.

Jesus wants this for us.  He doesn’t want us to suffer for suffering sake.  But he does want us to suffer if it will make us better than we are.

There is a kind of suffering that only comes from sacrificing what we need for others in our community.  This, I think, is part of why community is so essential to knowing Jesus.  Without it we can’t grow past a certain type of selfish, without sacrificing for community we can’t get past a certain terrible brand of selfishness.


This is not fun.  It’s hard work.  I don’t claim to very good at it.  Maybe you’re not either.  But there’s only one way to get good.  And that’s to practice. 

2000 years ago Jesus came and elevated community by setting foot on the Earth.  He’s invited us to join him in communities that are elevated.  It’s not always fun but it is so worth it.

Community: Jesus is the bus driver

I’ve been invited to share some thoughts about the idea of affirming community the Sunday between Christmas and New Years.

Since I’m writing these thoughts down anyway to collect and organize them, I thought I’d do it here.  Several of you do this amazing job of helping me to focus and think things through…  In this case this is doubly true. 

Community is not something uniquely Christian.   I won’t even argue that Christians are somehow capeable of deeper community, really.

I do believe that there is an additional dismention to the Christ-centered communities I belong to.  There is this whole other thing.   The best I can do with describing it is like the difference between a 2-d and a 3-d movie.   Christ in the center of a community gives the community a breadth it wouldn’t otherwise experience.  Communities that do not have Christ in the center of them can run just as deep, (think up and down on the screen) but there is something more when Christ is present.

And Christ is present!  Wherever two or three are gathered in his name, he is there. 

We are hard-wired for community.  We all resonate with that scene in “Castaway”, when Tom Hanks talks to the volleyball.  We know that we would do it, too.  We all connect with the main character in “I am Legend” who is so lonely that he creates a whole fake cast of characters to interact with via manequins.

Biblically, God saw that it was not good for Adam to be alone.  Arguably, the real sin that Adam comitted in the fall was choosing community with Eve over community with God.  (A brief piece of evidence: in the Epistles, Paul goes out of his way to specify that Eve was decieved by the serpent but that Adam wasn’t decieved by the serpant.   My thanks to my friend Garret for pointing this tidbit out.)

When Jesus gathers the first of his apostles he does so in pairs.  They are brothers.  They already existed in community with each other.  Together, two sets of brothers join Jesus. 

So much has been said about the community that was formed by the early church that I hesitate to add more.  I’ve got nothing new to say.

In our every day lives, we see the importance of community.

Gangs, premarital sex, adultery, pornography, cults… all these are ultimately about our desperate need for community.

And it’s a strange thing.  Because there are many things that appear hard-wired to do that Jesus says we shouldn’t do anymore.  We shouldn’t lust, and we shouldn’t hate, for example.  It wouldn’t seem anymore far-fetched or over the top for Jesus to say that we shouldn’t exist in community.

But he does the opposite of that: he blesses community.   But typical to Jesus way of doing things, he does it with a twist.

The world’s communities define themselves by who is not included.  Churches have ignored Jesus example and done this so much: defined themselves by who is not in attendance.

And other times we have spent so much time and energy emphasizing the uniquely personal aspects of our relationship with Jesus, other times we have become so Americanized and bought the lies of independence and self-reliance.

The church has broken the family community down into individual units.  It seems like assembly line mentality has infected God’s house.

“Adults, you go in this room”  “Kids, you’re over here”  “Oops, you’re to old to be in this room, you need to go over there.”

There are all kinds of practical reasons it makes good sense to put all the people in the same stages of life in the same place… some times.

But if Jesus is in all of us, does it make sense to do this as much as we do?  We rationalize “This person is a gifted teacher, the ___ year-olds will learn so much more under him than under their own parents.”

This mentality robs the families of the bonding experience they’d have had, and it robs the parents of what they would have learned.

Or we say “It’s so much easier and more comfortable to be with all the people our same age.”  And we end up with college groups and middle aged groups and teen groups and senior citizens groups.  And we don’t recognize that we’ve succeeded in making an idol out of our comfort.

By segregating based on age and gender we rob people of the insight they need so desperately.  Seriously: do any of us really need input from people who are exactly like us?  This might be safe and easy and comfortable.  But I’m unsure that it makes us better people.  Iron sharpening iron is not safe, easy or comfortable.  Sparks fly.  If people aren’t careful they get hurt. 

I had this image.  It was a bus station.  People who want community, they are getting on the busses.  Jesus is the bus driver, for some of them.  He appears when ever two or three gather in his name.  Others are driven by other people.  Good people and bad people.  Well-intentioned and down right evil. 

Some of them just drive around aimlessly.  Others drive straight  into walls.  Some get to their destinations through dumb luck.  But only Jesus had the GPS.

Deitrich Bonhoefer on community

“He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial. God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.”

I found this quote on another blog and it really struck me.  (Can anybody help me out on the ettiquette in a case like this?  Should I have asked permission to “steal” the quote they found?)

Bonhoefer either wrote or was trasnlated in a manner that was a bit provocative.  But his words are incredibly important, both to me in my role as small groups guy and for people participating in Christian communities.

Just recently I was in a discussion about walking a balance between not wanting to meddle to much into the natural, organic existence of relationships.  The more structure and support I create the more artificial the relationships become.  In Bonhoefer’s words, the more visionary I am the more we lose authenticity.
There is relevance for the billions of people on planet Earth who are not involved in small group ministries, here.  It’s so easy for us to long for different sorts of relationships.   To look at the people we are “stuck” with (whether this is by accident of birth, location, past decisions, or knuckleheaded small group directors) and wish they were different.

I find it a bit ironic: Bonhoefer was one of the few Protestants who spoke out against the Nazis.  This lead to his death.  If Christians had acted more like a real community and stepped up with him, perhaps things would have turned out differently. 

A bit more on the biblical meaning of community

Jesus was all about the creation of communities.

He found the rabble, the dregs, the un-cool kids.  And he just hung out with them.  They were homeless and disenfranchised and definitely not part of the dominant politcal or religious power structure.

I wonder what he thinks about the way we often do church.  (Actually, I don’t wonder.  That was a rhetorical wondering.  I actually think I know.)

The model today seems to be this: Show up to our Sunday services.  Come to our potlucks.  Show up to our bible studies.  At some point, you’ll learn our social expectations, at some point you’ll learn our code words, our specific interpretations.  Once you do these things, we’ll hang out with you.

After Jesus poured himself into his disciples he sent them out into the world.  It’s almost the first time we get all the names in one places, it’s almost the first time that we picture the twelve together, that he gives them instructions for departing.

When the twelve seperate, they are told to depend on the hospitality of those who are in the towns they journey to.  They are told to live in their homes and eat dinner at there tables.  They are told to spread his revolution.

Again, I don’t really wonder about what Jesus thinks about what we’re doing now.  But I might pretend I wonder for rhetorical effect.  In the modern era we have created these seperate categories: evangelism, mission, fellowship.

I think Christianity doesn’t get the credit it deserves for the good it does in the world… But sometimes, this goodness seems like it’s done on this imperalistic, military, wordly model.

We undertake “missions” (Where does that word come from?  It makes us sound like spies.)  On these missions, we bring the stuff we have to people we think need it.  We don’t journey to those places thinking that they might have something for us.  We set ourselves up in our encampments, and we keep trying to spread what ever we’ve got until everybody seems to have it… Then we leave.

Am I making radical generalizations?  Yes.

Does old-school approach to missions do good in the world?  Usually, yes.

Are we doing what Jesus wanted us to do in the way he wanted us to do it?  No, I don’t think so.

I have to believe it we’d stop seperating those activities… If we saw fellowship, “mission” and evangelism as expressions of Jesus love, we’d be accomplishing so much more.

If we just went out into the world and built communities on the principles that Jesus espoused, in the manner he did, we’d have groups that wouldn’t look all that much like many of our churches.  And we’d be doing good that doesn’t look like many of our missions.  And we’d be spreading the faith in a way that doesn’t look like lots of our evangelism. 

I think we’d be doing things better than the ways we’ve been doing them.