Friday, March 7, 2014

4 Ways to Fix Un-Community in Your Group—NOT!

In yesterday's post, I asked the question related to why it is so hard for people to enter into community. Most of the time, we look for ways to fix this problem.  They usually come in the form of "6 Ideas for Taking Your Group to the Next Level" or "3 Sure-Fire Ways to Turn Your Group Around."
Work in Progress
Posts like that are needed. But this is not one of those. Sometimes I think we try to fix the problems in our groups without going deeply enough to identify the real issues. So we medicate the lack of community, while we become numb to what the Spirit of God really wants to do.

The problem though is that the Spirit of God usually does not work as fast as we want him to. We want to "get over" the problem of the lack of community. While God wants to lead us into the painful reality that we are not very good at living in community. He wants to reveal show us that we don't know how to love others very well. That "considering others as more important than ourselves" (Phil 2) does not come naturally. That we cannot fix our need to protect ourselves.

We want the glorious experience of resurrection community, but we would like to jump over the cross and the grave to get to it. So we think in terms of, "If I just do a few things that have worked in other groups, then maybe we will experience community."

Here's the deep reality about life: There are forces at work in our culture that undermine bonding. Things like busyness, working long hours, stress from debt, long commutes, and the like. On top of this, the rootlessness of our society always provides a way out when things get tough in our relationships. So if one group becomes frustrating, all we have to do is switch to another.

In my opinion, these forces are much more than cultural. They are spiritual. C. S. Lewis once wrote, "Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, and you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage."

Living in community is an act of spiritual warfare and adopting a few ideas that are quick fixes to the problem might provide a short-term solution, but it won't train us in the ways of the kingdom. This is what Jesus came and demonstrated with his followers. "Over against the forces and powers ..., Jesus introduces an alternative pattern of communal life, a distinct set of personal habits and relations, and a different story in terms of which to make sense of all things on earth and under heaven." (Barry Harvey, Can These Bones Live, 78).

Through us and by the Spirit, Jesus enters into enemy-occupied territory to train us to be a community that lives in a distinct way in the midst of the patterns of the world. We are not to be conformed to the pattern of self as defined as independent from the community (see previous post). We are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, and this happens through community. When we read Romans 12:1-2 in the context of the entire chapter, we see that transformation is set in the midst of community. Transformation is not an individualistic experience.

So, what do we do as leaders to re-shape our group life? I'd like to offer four ideas that focus on the need to waste time with one another. If we are going to actually be a community, we have to learn how to be with one another without an agenda, without a purpose, without a need to produce something. In other words, one of the key ways to "take part in a great campaign of sabotage" is to learn to love one another in the midst of sharing the normal stuff of life. Here are some ideas:
  1. Hold a meeting that is centered around the question: What do you like to do in your spare time? Invite people to bring an artifact from their spare time experience, i.e. display something from their hobby, show clip from their favorite movie, read a passage from a book. Then talk about how your personal passions can be shared with others in the group. 
  2. Have a party. Who's birthday is next on the calendar? That person gets to be celebrated in a unique way. Or host a game night.
  3. Spend the next three meetings sharing your story about how you came to know Jesus and what you feel like he is doing in your life right now.
  4. Eat together, eat together, eat together!!!!!!!!!!!
These four ideas won't fix un-community. However, they can help generate an environment where people can learn to waste time with one another, and this gives space for people to let down their walls and connect in new ways. 

Picture Credit: Creative Commons License J L via Compfight

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