Category Archives: community

Words…Always Getting in The Way of Communication

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There’s a lot being said on facebook, blogs, magazines and occasionally in face-to-face conversation. Right now most of it is focused on the shooting in Connecticut, gun regulation and mental health care. I’m not ready to weigh in on that because the grief is still too fresh. However, as I read posts and comments I see the same situation we witnessed in the months leading up to the election…and with just about every other major news story. People talking past one another, building up an army of straw-people with which to argue, and generally doing everything BUT communicating. That reminded me of a half-written post that’s been sitting on my desktop for months.

The point of that (this) post is that communication would be so much simpler if we didn’t have to use words.

How many times has a conversation broken down because one or both parties were so hung up on the other’s words that they couldn’t hear what was being said?

Sometimes the problem is that, purposely or on accident, we use emotionally-loaded language. I remember a time in high school when time seemed to stand still…

We were in the locker room after football practice. A group of guys were in an argument and pretty close to a fight. No big deal…these guys were almost always arguing and fighting. Several of them were related and all had grown up in the same neighborhood. The argument would likely lead to fisticuffs, but nothing more.

So most of us were just ignoring them. I was jealously wondering how they still had energy to argue…I could barely move after our workout.

Then another teammate, a big goofy redneck, walked through the door. He was an offensive lineman and was NEVER in a good mood after practice. Most of us were half-dressed by the time he made it into the locker room.

He saw the guys arguing and, after a few annoyed expletives, said, “Why are you people always fighting?”

The room was immediately bathed in silence. For a few moments that felt like hours it was really, really quiet…until the yelling started.

Oh yeah, did I mention that the guys fighting were black?

In this instance, “You people” referred to this specific group of guys who were always at each others’ throats…but that was most definitely NOT how they understood the phrase. And everyone in the room (with the exception of one goofy lineman) knew it as soon as the words were uttered.

Fisticuffs did ensue…just not as we had initially anticipated.

This isn’t just a problem in racially charged scenarios, and it’s not simply an issue for testosterone-fueled teenage guys.

Many times the communication break-down occurs between social groupings – gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socio-economics, geography, political affiliation, education level, and religious background can all play a role. But the struggle isn’t limited to these obvious cultural differences.

All communication is cross-cultural…even if we’re just talking to ourselves.

Perhaps speaking a common language is one of the biggest miscues for communication. We can be lulled into a false sense of “being on the same page,” and never realize how much we’re speaking past one another.

I have another memory from high school (yep, just the two…the rest is a blur). We were on a summer mission trip in Mexico. I sat on the back pew in a swelteringly hot, one room building with a 10 year old Mexican boy. It was my first trip across the border and I could only speak a few halting sentences in Spanish. He spoke even less English. And yet, we talked.

We were very aware of just how incoherent our words were to one another, and I’m convinced that knowledge helped us communicate much more carefully. He loved his small village of La Pesca. He loved the ocean, his large family (a term that I soon realized was not limited to blood relation), playing soccer with his friends. He wanted to visit the US, but he had no interest in living there. He was happy we were visiting, not because of the work we came to do but because he loved meeting new people. He thought my Texas-accented, broken Spanish was hilarious, but he thanked me for trying to speak his language.

The significance of that conversation wasn’t found in the details we learned about one another. It was the sense that for that moment, because we couldn’t assume anything about our communication, we were completely attuned to one another. We were listening deeply with all our senses. We were both fully present.

I met many people in Mexico on that and subsequent trips. Later, as my Spanish improved, I had conversations that were significantly more verbally coherent. But still, close to 20 years later, his face is the first one that comes to mind when someone mentions visiting Mexico.

Words, and the assumption that they mean the same thing for the speaker and hearer, can really make communication difficult.

We live in an age of relative and rapidly evolving definitions. Perhaps things were different in ages past, when people lived around the same people for most or all of their lives; when travel or even communication with other groups was rare.

But the world has changed. Whether we like the change or not is beside the point. It happened. It is now more important than ever to slow down and make sure there is some amount of consistency between what is being said and what is being heard.

Assuming that we’re all speaking the same language just because we’re speaking the same language can cause serious problems.

However, if we will take the time to be fully present in a conversation we can find ourselves communicating deeply with another person. We don’t have to share cultural backgrounds, religious affiliation, political leanings, sports team loyalty or even native language.

Of course, there’s also the question of whether we actually want to hear what the other is saying. But that’s a post for another day…

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MY Community

I’m kinda weird.

No, no, don’t try to deny it. Its true. If you remain dubious, my wife and mother will both happily provide confirmation.

I’ve always lived in this strange tension between groups – belonging to many but not really belonging to any. This isn’t so much an adolescent existential crisis – at least, I don’t think so…but adolescents always deny it too…dang dirty paradoxes!!

Part of it stems from my inability to do things the “normal” way. I graduated high school in August – so, not a full year early and not with my original class…I’m not really in either group. As a growed-up, I’ve tried to walk the line between academics and practical ministry – which means that I’ll likely never be a stand-out in either and I’m not enough of a people person to do a good job of bringing the two groups together. There’s another one…what kind of introvert goes into church planting?? A weird one.

I have conservative friends who all think I’m too liberal (they’re probably right) and liberal friends who all think I’m too conservative (they’re probably right…but admittedly there are fewer of them and they’re all pretty weird too.)

Country folks say I’m too city and city-folks say I’m too country…though using the word “city-folks” certainly provides a colloquial indicator of leaning toward the former. Of course, using “colloquial indicator” returns the scale to neutral.

Many in the Churches of Christ find me suspect – and so does everyone outside the Churches of Christ. Maybe that’s not a good example, I’m just suspect.

If scientists had any reason to study me they’d find a confusing mixture of (over)work ethic and laziness, obsessive tendencies and flightiness, perfectionism and procrastination.

I absolutely love to plan things in my head. Stupid random things that aren’t ever going to become reality – but if they do, I have a plan in place. The only problem is that I can’t stand operating under a strictly planned regimen like the ones I concoct.

You may say to me, “You aren’t so unique. There are plenty of people who are wired this way.”

Touché scientist.

However, my response is, “Yes. There are others like me. And they too are weird.”

Make no mistake, this weirdness sets the stage for interesting things to happen. I have accumulated a number of life experiences which are inspirational and/or (usually and) utterly ridiculous. And it seems that I’m genetically predisposed to these sorts of stories.

The closest I’ve come to “normalcy” was right before I got laid off and moved my family to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

But these interesting stories come at a price. Life isn’t an epic novel and I’m not the beloved main character. Maybe I’m the strange traveling companion who bites it just before the plot resolves…who knows, my “biting it” may just provide the aforementioned resolution.

And unlike a character in a novel, I often don’t experience a miraculous rising above my limitations. I also haven’t found the instant healing energy/medical packs that litter the video game landscape.

They say that its darkest right before dawn – which if “dawn” is defined as the point at which it starts getting light, then that statement is like saying you found something in the last place you looked. Really? Amazing.

But the problem I’ve found is that when you think you’ve reached that darkest time right before dawn… it often gets darker still. You don’t know the night is as dark as it can get until it starts getting light again. So waiting for dawn seems to be a recipe for frustration and ulcers.

But you can only sing so many songs to make the night seem less terrible.

My life lacks normalcy. I’ve accepted that. I often feel like an outsider everywhere I go…partly due to the abnormal rhythms of my life, but mostly due to my general weirdness. Okay. We’ve lived in our current house for three years. That is by far the longest I’ve lived anywhere since leaving my parents’ house back in the 20th century. Today, I had a brief and yet eye-opening experience.

While my truck was drinking an expensive steak dinner for two’s worth of gas, I went into the gas station to get a cup of ice. In the contemporary world of 32oz plastic cups, ice ain’t free. Supposedly that used to happen – in Mayberry – when everybody was neighborly and whatnot. Those days are gone. I live in a hyper-mobile culture where nobody knows anybody and ice ain’t free.

But today it was.

And I realized that it has been on several occasions at this gas station…just like the coffee often is at my favorite cafe (if you know me, you know what that is…but I’ll leave the name out in case Big Brother is listening). Why was my ice free? For the same reason my coffee often is.

Because I’m a “regular.” Because I’m part of the group. Because even if they don’t all know my name, they recognize my face.

For whatever its worth, to some small degree, I belong to these transient communities. A moment of normalcy in the midst of chaos. I initially set out to “inhabit” these spaces three years ago as on opportunity for missional engagement in THE community. Somewhere along the way it became engagement in MY community.

…Which probably means we’ll have to move soon.

Sorry, neither of you two readers would have believed this was authentic if I didn’t include a little cynicism.

Perhaps I should say more about this. I should unpack it and explain away the weirdness to show how I’ve developed healthy rhythms within the insanity…to provide some attempt at profundity. But I haven’t…so I won’t. Today, a brief moment of connection will have to suffice – for me and for you.


Prayer for Friday, May 27

Partners and Community for Ourselves
God, Community of Love, you have created us to live in community rather than isolation. We pray, for our own continued health, that you will surround each of us with friends and family committed to a shared vision of following you together. We pray for the leadership of Intentional People, that these families will continue to cultivate trust and friendship, so that each will be nurtured and encouraged to continue serving others. We pray for our new church plant, that relationships will be strengthened and cultivated so that we will continue to move forward in discipleship with joy and passion. In both of these endeavors we continue to pray for those you are raising up to partner together in different ways. Grant us wisdom and discerning hearts to protect one another from those who would do us harm and guide us forward in cultivating community in the places where you have placed us.

Back on Sunday, we asked you to be praying for financial, prayer and ministry partners for both Intentional People and our church planting efforts. Has God put any names on your heart? If so, would you consider speaking with them about these ministries? Please also feel free to contact us with names of these potential partners. Are there ways in which God may be laying it on your own heart to join with us in some way or to take the next step toward deeper connection? Again, we are extremely grateful to you for joining us in this season of prayer. We thank God for your partnership in the gospel.

Prayer for Thursday, May 26

Cultivating Community with The Poor and Oppressed
God, Community of Love, we want to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. We want to be known as “friends of sinners,” we desire to show solidarity with and developing community among the poor, the overlooked, forgotten and oppressed. Open our eyes to see these people which our society tries so hard to ignore and open our hearts to see them instead as you see them, as your beloved children. God we pray not only for opportunities to extend hospitality to the poor, but also for the grace to receive it. Grant us the honor of affirming the dignity of your image bearers who may have, this very day, been denied that birthright. God we acknowledge that among impoverished communities there is much darkness, sin and violence. We pray that you will bring light, repentance and peace to these places and that you will use us as your cracked and humble vessels in doing so.

Today, would you ask God to reveal ways in which Intentional People can serve as an encouragement to the poor and oppressed? We pray for partners and a growing community of people working together to eradicate the darkness around us through the Light of God that is within us. We have been blessed as part of Christ Journey to serve the poor in this area, and have cultivated some lasting friendships. We pray that this will continue as we launch out with our new church planting work as well.

Prayer for Wednesday, May 25

Cultivating Community in the Global Community
God, Community of Love, we are citizens of your kingdom which transcends national and ethnic boundaries. Teach us, Lord of Light, to see this world through your eyes and not be blinded by narrow, nationalistic thinking. Holy God, we pray that Intentional People will serve as a resource for inspiring those whom you are preparing to serve in various ways throughout the global community. We place our hands, our talents and our lives at your service to bless and encourage others wherever you may send them. In the same way, Father, we pray that our local church planting work will not lose sight of your love and concern for all people everywhere. Guide us in loving and caring for those who live across the street and together with them, in being mindful of those who live across the oceans. As citizens of your vast empire, God, Community of Love, erase from us any selfish desires or agendas for building empires of our own. We confess Jesus the Christ as both our savior and our Lord, to the glory of the Father and through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Do you know someone who is working to build community or bring hope amidst the global community? If so, we would love to connect with them and perhaps even interview them for the Intentional People Video Project or the Missional Monks podcast. As we pray together, we invite you to think about and approach God with us regarding those we can partner with to inspire others.

Prayer for Tuesday, May 24

Cultivating Community in the Local Community
God, Community of Love, we know that you bless us in order that we will be a blessing to others. We pray that your wisdom will guide us into the midst of our neighborhoods and communities to model and invite others into a life of community – with you and with one another. Father, teach us to see the ways in which you are already at work bringing people together and allow us to serve as your co-laborers and ambassadors. Lord, we ask that Intentional People will serve to bring people together in their local context, working alongside you in community. We pray that you will show us those you are raising up to work in your fields – we pray that your Spirit will cultivate those relationships and produce a great harvest. God, Community of Love, we pray that through our work of planting the gospel in north Burleson, we will be aware of the people you bring across our paths – give us eyes to see and ears to hear so that we may make the most of every opportunity.

Be intentional today about looking for people that God may be bringing into your life. Cultivate awareness of those around you – often the only thing that keeps us from being able to have a positive influence for the kingdom in someone else’s life is that we simply aren’t present in the moment. God is already at work all around us. 

Prayer for Monday, May 23

Community in the Church
God, Community of Love, we are grateful for your Church. We pray that wherever the Church meets, your spirit of community and communitas will be present. Teach us, O Lord, to lay down our selfish ambitions and in humility consider others better than ourselves. We pray that our attitude will be that of Christ Jesus, who did not consider equality with you something to be held on to, but humbled himself and took the form of a servant. We pray that our small community of faith will grow in its influence throughout our region by living openly as your humble servants in community. Let our love for one another display our identity as your disciples; let our testimony of redemption be a proclamation of hope to those we encounter. God, Community of Love, we pray that Intentional People will serve as a resource and encouragement to your Church. We pray that our work will be a pleasing gift to your kingdom, which we believe wholeheartedly is at hand and which we anticipate arriving in fullness in the future.


As we pray today for community in the Church, let us remember that there are local expressions of the Church, but all are connected to the One Body of Christ. We pray that Intentional People will serve to help cultivate the experience of community in local churches through the fostering the experience of communitas (community shaped and formed by shared mission or struggle). Are there ways that your local expression of the church could partner with or benefit from the work of Intentional People? Consider talking with your local leadership about this, or contact me for more information.

Season of Prayer, Week 5

Scripture Passage for Daily Reflection
Acts 4:32-5:42 (NIV, via biblegateway.com)
Thoughts for the Week
This week we make a shift in our prayers together. During our final three weeks of this prayer season we’ll still be following the same daily outline and will continue to have an overall theme for the week (partners/community this week, then mission/commission and harvest/fruit in the final two weeks respectively). However, up to this point, our prayers each day have been somewhat general in nature, often pointing each of us to look into our own neighborhood, community or church family. 
We began this way because the goal of Intentional People and our efforts in planting churches are not merely to seek God’s blessings on us here. Ours in a kingdom focus; we prayerfully seek the in-breaking of God’s reign in all corners of creation. We wanted our first season of prayer to be marked by a concern beyond our own local success or failure.
My prayer is that with a month of this type of communal prayer established, we’ll each continue to pray with an eye toward what’s happening in our context as well as what others are experiencing as well. 
Going into these last three weeks leading up to the official fundraising launch of Intentional People and our formation of a new missional community in Burleson, I am grateful to have this community of prayer partnering with us. The prayers will focus on specifically lifting up Intentional People and our church plant with regards to the weekly and daily themes. However, I encourage you to continue in practices which lead you into similar connections in your neighborhood.
In Acts 18 there’s a story that has been the inspiration for referring to bi-vocational ministry as “tent making.” When Paul arrived in Corinth he met some tent makers. Since he was a tent maker also he stayed and worked with them. We get the impression from several of Paul’s letters in the new testament that this was one of his common strategies. We know from other passages that his reasoning (at least, in part) for this approach was that he didn’t want to give any unbelievers or new believers a reason to claim that he was only ministering to them in order to receive a paycheck – and he also didn’t want to be a burden on these young communities, many of which consisted of people who were (or soon would be) struggling themselves. 
There is another common understanding about the value of this type of bi-vocational work. Those who are supported by the system can easily become co-opted by the system. (This was part of what Alan Hirsch shared with Chris and I during our podcast interview – which you can listen to at missionalmonks.com) I worked either part-time or full-time for established churches for a decade before launching into church planting, so I’ve seen this first-hand. There are many ministers who want to challenge unhealthy aspects of “the system” but since doing so may lead to the unemployment line, they are often pressured to hold back a necessary prophetic challenge. I think this is a valid point in the whole bi-vocational conversation.
However, we live in a broken world where wisdom is often corrupted by sin. In our desire to support ourselves financially so that we can speak truth into the lives of others we can easily begin to remove accountability and connection to others, claiming that we are only accountable to God. While this is technically true, many of us have discovered that without others to keep us focused on Him to whom we answer, we actually begin answering only to ourselves…which is dangerous at best and idolatrous at worst.
It is easy to miss the verse following the “tent making” paragraph. In 18:5 it says “When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah.”
When Paul’s partners arrived he apparently gave up the bi-vocational approach, at least for a time. Not only did Silas and Timothy’s arrival mean friends and co-laborers, it also meant the arrival of financial support from other churches; support that would allow Paul to devote himself exclusively to preaching. Notice that Paul first preached exclusively to the Jews – and it didn’t go that well…it says in verse 6, “But when they opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”
Later in the chapter, Paul receives a vision where God says: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.”
No matter how we are supported in ministry, there will be difficulties – but there is strength, blessing, support, encouragement and protection that comes from partners in the community of God.
This week we pray for partners and community. While we desire not to be a burden on those to whom we’re reaching (and we pray that Intentional People will very soon fill the bulk of our financial support needs) we do not want to operate in isolation. We are grateful for those of you who are already surrounding us with prayer and encouragement. We pray for those who have partnered with us financially over the last three years and those who will do so in the future. We pray for those who will lend their voices, hands and talents to work with Intentional People in different ways; for the partnerships we’re are developing with other organizations and individuals. We are also praying for another church planting family to join us in our work in Burleson. 
We’re already blessed to have friends and co-laborers in this area who are going out with us; a community of faith sharing life on mission with God. As we begin planting the gospel in new neighborhoods, we also pray that God will raise up a family trained and called to ministry that can help with teaching, community organizing, guidance and training of others in discipleship, etc.
We are also praying for the possibility of one or more partnering churches with whom we can enjoy a relationship of mutual edification and support. 
Thank you for joining with us in lifting these prayers to the Father.
Prayers for Sunday – God the Community of Love
God, Community of Love, in the beginning you created the heavens and the earth, but before the beginning, you were. Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we acknowledge you, the Three-in-One as the source of our longing for community and connection to others. Holy God, as we long to understand how we are to live as the gathered church in community, we have to look no further than to your revealed nature; as we seek wisdom in living as your scattered church in the midst of the larger community, we have to look no further than to your revealed activities. Since the very beginning Lord you have sent yourself repeatedly into our midst. In the darkness you have been there with us, a guide, companion, protector and friend. Lord, we pray that you will guide the work of Intentional People as it seeks to encourage and inspire your children to live bold lives of adventure on mission with you. God, we pray that you will lead us into the neighborhoods of north Burleson and the south Fort Worth area to plant the gospel in community. We follow you with full confidence that where your seeds of hope are planted, healthy churches will grow up by your power. Bless us O God, Community of Love, for in you alone does true community find its origin.
This week our prayers are focused on partners and community – both for Intentional People and our new church planting work. In addition to the communal prayers, would you take a few moments each day to ask God to raise up partners for us? We need financial partners, prayer partners (we thank you for already serving in that capacity), and others who will serve as resources and collaborators in different ways, according to their gifts. With regards to our church planting work, we are praying for one or more partnering churches, with whom we can have a mutually edifying relationship and we are also seeking another church planting family to join us in this work.

The Power of Discernment

I’ve learned a lot about discernment over the last few years. Being a wise, discerning person is something to which I’ve always aspired. When I was very young I was taught the story of King Solomon asking God for wisdom. I was told then that this is a gift that we can ask for and God will always give it. Perhaps my motives were less than saintly (as most of my motives tend to be) but that seemed like a pretty sweet deal…I wasn’t going to pass up on asking for something that I would definitely receive.
Over the years I’ve continued to ask God for wisdom and discernment, and to be honest, I struggle with how to have humble confidence – see my last post – on whether or not this prayer has been answered. I feel that God is teaching me to see what’s going on around me, but I’m always a little nervous having confidence in myself. One of my greatest insecurities is the fear that I lack self-awareness – that I’m actually like Michael Scott in The Office and have no idea how people really see me.
A few years back, a friend commented on the value of communities of discernment – which was a new term to me at the time. He went on to explain that wise people take matters of discernment to their community and do not get overly confident in an answer before it has been subjected to prayer with others. This seemed wise.
Since that time, I’ve had several opportunities to engage in discernment processes with others – sometimes it is formally structured, sometimes less so – but each time the goal is to seek God’s guidance together.
This is going to be somewhat vague as I’m not ready to put specifics on the interweb just yet… but recently there was an issue that I’d been wrestling over for months, seemingly to no avail. I simply could not find any peace. The whole thing was causing me to feel disconnected – spiritually, emotionally, relationally – as if I was just floating along with little purpose or meaningful interactions in my life. I tried to approach the issue in prayer, with study, with logic, with imagination…but solutions continued to evade my grasp.
Finally, it seemed that I was discerning a response from God. It wasn’t as though God were sitting on the couch telling me what to do. But there was a response that kept coming back in my mind over and over and I felt like I understood that to which it was calling.
Typically this type of realization brings a sense of peace, even if the answer itself isn’t what I expected or thought I wanted. But this time I just wasn’t feeling it. I want to be faithful to the Spirit’s guidance, and this seemed to be just that…so why couldn’t I feel at peace with it?
I began making plans to take this issue to my community.
In the meantime, I continued to pray. I talked the matter over with Rachel, and she prayed.
Then, as I worked an over-night security shift, I spent time reading through the book of Acts and had some things stand out in very confrontational ways – ways which seemed to conflict with what I thought I was hearing. It wasn’t that what I thought I was hearing was in conflict with Scripture per se, but what I felt it was calling me to seemed counter to how this passage called out to my heart.
First thing in the morning I received an email from Rachel, with a text she’d read that morning and the comment, “I think this was actually meant for you.” Though it was a completely different context, the message was very much the same as what I’d gleaned from Acts the night before.
That afternoon I had a brief conversation with a professor friend of mine who made some seemingly random comments which once again connected with the previous night’s reading.
The next day I talked with my friend Anthony and asked him to comment on the initial issue of discernment. I didn’t go into the events of the previous couple days. He has been a trusted friend, coach and counselor for the past three years and knows my situation as well as just about anyone. His response, after hearing what I’d felt God was saying in the initial piece of discernment was basically, “I think you’re on to something, but maybe you’re interpreting it wrong.”
As soon as he said that, all the pieces fell into place. The scripture passages, the conversations with Rachel and Elaine, my own lack of peace…it all made more sense. Through this continued process and struggle with communal discernment it became apparent that the Spirit was leading me in a certain direction and I’d misinterpreted what that meant on a practical level.
And here’s where the whole process seems to get confirmation. Since those conversations, I haven’t really changed much of what I’m doing day-to-day, but suddenly doors for connection and conversation have been swinging open left and right. In the past couple weeks friendships have deepened – often at the other’s instigation – and people I barely know have sought me out for one reason or another. I’ve been given the honor of being asked to walk through confusing, painful and even frightening situations with people who have not known me long enough to trust me…or maybe they haven’t known me long enough NOT to trust me! 😉
My schedule is still just as hectic and stressful, an issue that needs to be addressed, but I’m not feeling so disconnected and lacking peace.
I’d love to know whether this experience resonates with your own. Have you had similar times of struggle and discernment? What was it that helped you find peace? How did you go about listening to the Spirit?

The New Individualism?

Isolation in Communal Clothing

The following represents my own internal struggle with experiencing community and how “church” is faithfully lived out. I am often torn between expressions of the gathered and scattered church; it is sometimes difficult to see how best to faithfully live into both sides of the coin. If you think my depiction of disciple-making in “organic” missional contexts doesn’t describe you…you’re probably right. I’m not setting out to describe you. I’m working through my own inconsistencies. However, it is my prayer that my journey is beneficial to others, if only to help you feel a little better about your own pathology! 🙂


A friend recently commented on how often I write about community while carrying certain burdens on my own. He’s right, I repent.

I’m sure there are a number of reasons why that is the case, but I must begin by acknowledging the most obvious – I am drawn to write about community out of my desire and longing, not the expertise of experience. And I need to continue addressing that longing in my own life.

I know community is messy and dangerous. I have seen that first-hand. And sometimes, as much as I want to enter it anyway, I’m still guilty of holding back. Whether its from fear or my introverted personality doesn’t really matter. That my fears are based in real-life experience is of no consequence, I need to embrace community more fully.

I do want to say that I use the word “sometimes” intentionally. This is something I’m aware of and have tried to address. It is far from dealt with, but that doesn’t mean its being avoided.

I’ve written/said before that it seems many of us are drawn to certain things not because of gifting and success but rather because of need and failure. We may be drawn to champion and lead a program like Celebrate Recovery not because we’ve seen how well it sets people free from different addictions but because we recognize that we ourselves still struggle with addictive tendencies. We may be drawn to contemplative spiritual disciplines NOT because we are that contemplative but precisely because we are frenetic and undisciplined.

Similarly we may well be drawn to things like community and missional engagement because we are withdrawn and isolated.

When we feel a powerful draw to critique a particular vice, we should consider carefully how that vice is manifested in our lives. It is easy to see our own dysfunctions played out in others, even when we cannot see them in ourselves. So, perhaps when we can clearly see a dysfunction is someone or a group of someones, we should carefully examine how that the same dysfunction may well be plaguing our own life in some way.

So maybe, in a strange way, I am an expert on community. Not in that I have the course mapped out, but because I am acutely aware of the pain caused by its absence. First and foremost, I need to continue addressing the need for connection to others in my own life. And I will.

However, first and foremost does not mean solely and completely.

My own need for community and connection to something larger than myself – namely the Body of Christ and the Kingdom of God (two separate but closely related things) – is perhaps more than just a personal deficiency. In 2 Corinthians, Paul tells us of his own experience in learning that our weaknesses are the venue for God’s power to be made known (12:9 grossly paraphrased). This means lots of things, perhaps including that through our own weaknesses, God reveals where the Spirit is at work – not only in our own lives, but in the Church and in all creation.

Those who know me well are aware that I struggle with the current tendency to reject anything that appears structured or organized. On the one hand, I agree and lend my voice to the symphony of critiques against the overly-programmed approach to church that dominates the landscape.

I agree that when we connect with a group of people, the compulsion to get them out of the place we found them and into a worship assembly can be quite destructive.

I see the wisdom of coming alongside people and helping them become devoted disciples without extracting them from the places where they already have relationships.

I agree that too often we’ve failed to help people become disciples of Jesus right where they are and instead converted them to CHURCHianity…effectively converting them to passive consumption of religious goods and services.

I get all that.

However, I fear that we (I) may run the risk of getting the emperor to run around naked in more appropriate places…while still convinced he’s wearing clothes.

Is it possible that those of us who used to function as “professional clergy” in a context where people were dependent on us for their spiritual feeding, haven’t really changed the script all that much? Could it be the case that we’re still doing the same thing when we attempt to cultivate discipleship relationships that are cut off from a body of believers? Here’s a possible test: what happens in the life of the new disciple when (not if) we drop the ball in the relationship? Even if there’s another person or two in the mix, is it the case that when it gets difficult to juggle our schedule and we miss a couple opportunities for coffee or beer that we’re still fine…but they’re not?

This, for me, is why church planting is still important (or connection to a church, new or established). It is good to talk about planting the gospel. It is good to recognize that “church” happens along the way, during the week. But, while we cannot ignore the need for the scattered church, the gathered church still has an important function and one that we should feel compelled to share with new friends as well as old.

This does not mean that everyone needs to be plugged into a traditional church, with well-funded programs and paid staff (though perhaps we shouldn’t discount the reality that some disciples may still flourish in those contexts). It does not mean that everyone we meet and develop relationship with should be coerced into gathering in one place each week.

But it does mean that part of inviting people to follow Jesus is introducing them to the Body of Christ. It is God’s design that humans experience life in community, and disciples experience the life of faith in a community of faith.

This may mean that a church is born in a local pub, or on the lake or wherever. It may mean that people you connect with do not worship with your community on Sunday.

But, it also means that they do need a worshipping community beyond your occasional contact…and for true discipleship to take place, there needs to be an expectation that they will invite others to come and see this Jesus as well.

We can bemoan the “numbers” focus all we want, but we can’t forget that those numbers represent individual people who are loved by God…people that God desires to be reconciled to, and whom the Spirit has been working in long before we came along.

So, yes, church happens “on the way,” and we are inviting people to more than an event. The kingdom of God is about more than the church, but it isn’t about less. If the worshipping community is important to us, why would it be unimportant to new disciples?

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