Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Living out the buzzword "community"

I go to an evangelical mega-church. It's big. You Catholics and Orthodox would cringe upon entering, noting the excessive amount of overly trendy high heels and perfect hair and faded jeans and tshirts. The "worship" would feel like a concert. You'd probably appreciate my pastor's sermons, but you'd likely leave thankful for your small congregation and the beauty of traditional sacraments.

And... actually... those are many of the same things I thought on my first visit. And yet... we stayed. We stayed for several reasons, and one of them has been perhaps the most remarkable thing I've experienced through my time at this church. Intentional community.

In our first weeks of attending we saw that there was a quick way to attend a connecting meeting and be placed in a small group with other couples. There was a lot of talk about the importance of community in being truly known, being held accountable, truly growing and changing instead of just attending church on Sunday. Those are things we believed were marks of a true disciple and a healthy church, and so despite the size of the church we thought maybe, just maybe, this would be place where we could truly get to know some people.  That's something we'd struggled with in our previous church... relationship building.

So, we started into something new for us. We'd both been in small groups before, and I'd been in some fantastic small groups with dear friends before, but that's exactly what made it different. Always before a group had been formed after the friendships were already in place, and the group commitment simply deepened those friendships. This time we were arbitrarily placed with four other couples that we'd never met before and we began meeting weekly.

It was not easy to get to know each other. We found we were from a wide variety of backgrounds, had very different interests, and in some cases we had very little in common. For a long time we met weekly with an older mentor couple and did some studies about marriage, and at the end of that I still felt like I was meeting with strangers with familiar faces that I liked but didn't know. Us girls have a number of introverts among us, so we've had to work towards intentionality and bonding. But we did have something in common - a real desire for friendship and authenticity. It's because of that, I think, that what we have now is really remarkable. It didn't come easily - we fought for it.

The guys have something really unusual in the level of honesty and accountability they hold each other to weekly. They have a series of questions about God, their marriages, sexuality, etc. that they ask each other. I've watched Isaac just thrive in this situation of being truly known by a group of fun guys. It's cool to see such honesty between men. I've mentioned before that Isaac and I live with another couple - and that relationship came out of this community group. As a group we've persevered through some pretty big marital struggles, clinical depression, job loss, and financial struggles. I've watched the whole group transition from a vague desire to daily seek the Lord to a personal push by each person to own a daily quiet time of some sort. We know each others' finances and debt and giving- rare in our society. We challenge each other on the way we treat our spouses and the things we have conflict over. We look for ways to serve our church and our society as a group. We struggle to find truth for each situation in God's Word.

For me, it's living out what I see commanded all through the New Testament. We try to bear each others' burdens. Hebrew 10 says, "Let us consider how to stimulate one another and to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near." There are verses about confessing to each other, worshiping together, praying together, challenging each other, mourning together... always together. In a fractured society, it's easy to have a lot of people that you know but no one that you commune with on a soul level. And even if you do have people that know you well, it's rare to have people who are committed to do so as a church, as a body of believers, with the final purpose of worshiping and knowing Christ.

Like I said, it hasn't been easy. It'd be awesome if we always met weekly and it was natural and easy and filled with warm fuzzies. That hasn't been the case for us, but the work we've put into our commitment to each other and to true community has been worth it, because I know I am without excuse before them in my challenge to love people, to love Isaac, and to pursue God. When I start to hide away and feel sorry for myself, I known they can see that, even if I'm glossing it over. They've also been there for us personally in the midst of our summer financial chaos and the adjustment to being pregnant. They've loaned cars, given money, thrown a baby shower, and just... been friends. And that's the biggest thing of all to me.

So... do I go to a mega-church? Yes. But in some ways I also go to a very small house church that meets weekly on Sunday at lunch time in some one's living room. Our little small group community is something I am so thankful for.


Anonymous said...

I would like to read a bit more on this site soon. By the way, rather nice design that site has, but don’t you think design should be changed from time to time?

That Married Couple said...

I was really encouraged by this post, because I have no experience with megachurches and have worried that it would be impossible to have true community within one. I really love to hear about people intentionally fostering community (and it's even more impressive to intentionally create accountability), and am so glad you all have been able to find this!