6 Myths of Community

IMG_9601As we move into a new year, our little community of Jesus followers is taking some intentional time to individually and collectively reflect, evaluate and consider the implications of committing to each other and God to our shared life in Golden Hill for another year. One of the practices we have committed to in this time is to confront the unhealthy or unrealistic expectations we have of each other. We have found that dreams, visions and hopes for our community are good, beautiful and necessary. While that remains true, they can be the very things that destroy community before it starts. 

When I was going through seminary, I talked with countless leaders who had had big visions for the type of community they would lead, yet most didn’t last past 8, 9 or 10 months.  

What keeps many communities from sustaining for the long haul?

We all carry ideals and expectations with us into community and when they aren’t realized, we often assume our community isn’t “real” or that it is a failure. If we can identify the myths we carry into community, we can confront our unrealistic expectations and choose to willingly submit some of our personal one’s for the larger mission God has for our community. 

Here are 6 myths we have identified over our years as an intentional community committed to follow Jesus together:

Myth #1: Perfect Harmony

This myth says that we’ll all get along really easily and naturally with little to no conflict. After all, we all showed up here, so we must all be on the same page, right? This myth means that we assume that we will all be naturally interested in each other’s lives and we’ll discover things about each other with which we strongly connect. We also assume that we’re in similar places in our maturity, experience, and readiness, and since we’re all equally committed to the same things, we’ll all be willing to make similar sacrifices.

However, the reality is we’re not all at the same place, and we may never be. That’s okay, though. There will always be some dissonance in a community. Dissonance doesn’t mean you don’t have community; in fact, it might actually mean you do! Or, as we saw in the stages of community, you’re at least on your way there. 

Myth #2: Absolute Agreement

This myth does not refer to harmony in relationships, but to harmony in decisions and direction. It is the myth that we’ll always agree or arrive at a consensus because that’s what happens in community. This myth is the naive belief that no one will ever have to yield their opinion to the group because we’ll always end up on the same page if we just talk long enough. It is the belief that if we’re yielding enough to each other and to the Spirit we will never have to agree to disagree. There’s another assumption in this myth that’s a little more subtle but pretty significant: it’s the assumption that we won’t need distinct roles or responsibilities because we’re a community and everybody will decide on everything together, and we won’t move until we do. When we do that, we flirt with a denial of the gifts and roles with which God has gifted his church. The reality is, there will always be disagreements and differences in perspectives. There will be differences in gifts and responsibilities. In our communities, we’ve found that the answer isn’t agreeing on everything; it’s finding a way to go forward even when we don’t agree. 

Myth #3: Raw Pleasure

This is the myth that being honest, raw, or authentic means we have the right to say whatever we’re feeling whenever we want and thinking that people will actually appreciate that. This myth leads to thinking that unbounded authenticity is always good and welcomed. In fact, it is thinking that unbounded authenticity is community. Further, the myth of raw pleasure is the belief that now that we are in community, the door is wide open for us to say whatever we’re feeling whenever we’re feeling it—because healthy community requires complete honesty 100 percent of the time. It’s concluding that messiness and confusion are the reality of community life and that people actually prefer messiness over harmony, peace, and light-hearted adventure.

The reality is that community is not—and never has been—a green light to be mean or insensitive. Chaos is not synonymous with community. In healthy communities, love and kindness will always trump raw, self-serving disclosure.  

Myth #4: Truth At All Costs

While raw pleasure is more about personal disclosure, this myth is more about the idea of speaking “truth” to others. This is the myth that in community, we have a duty to point out people’s faults as soon as we see them. It is the assumption that we need to deliver the truth that we know as soon as we know it. It’s the belief that people want and need to hear truth more than they want and need to feel loved. This myth assumes that we can freely share our convictions and opinions at just about any time because being in community gives us a green light to address people’s “ignorance” or their personal issues at any time.

But, the reality is there is still a right time and a right way to share convictions and people will always have different convictions . . . and you may even be wrong!

Myth #5: It’s All Fixable

This myth is the common assumption that communities are miracle workers—that if a need is shared in community, the community must have the ability to fix it. Those who hold this belief often assume that if we need help beyond our community, we’re not a “true” community. Believing this myth also leads us to jump to the conclusion that people share things openly because they want us to fix their problems. Maybe they do, but maybe they just need us to listen and empathize with them.

The reality is that we’re human and we won’t be able to meet everyone’s needs. There are many great resources outside of our community (pastors, counselors, spiritual directors, coaches, and so on) that we would be foolish and arrogant not to access.  

Myth #6: True Community Is Always Communal 

When people visit our community, they are often surprised that we don’t all live in one house. The assumption seems to be that true community requires a common roof. Many communities have chosen that form, and it has worked well for them. It certainly brings people together, and we agree that proximity is vital to organic community. There are also obvious environmental and economic benefits to shared living that should not be discounted. However, there are downsides to communal life as well: the biggest negative is probably the time and energy that are required to maintain peace and order in communal space. Sharing space is not the same thing as sharing life.

We have opted for a slightly different approach while still valuing proximity and a sense of shared space. We made the decision to live close to one another (all within a ten-minute walk) and to inhabit the same neighborhood rather than the same house. Some of us do share houses with each other, some of us live in separate apartments in the same building, and some of us live in our own homes. We share our lives, we share our neighborhood, and we share a common covenant to do life in a particular way. For us, making these choices has created real community. 

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Note: The majority of this post is an excerpt from my book with Rob Yackley, Thin Places: Six Postures for Creating and Practicing Missional Community

 

 

Vocation: An Unorthodox Call to “Success” and “Freedom”

Freedom and success are defined in a lot of peculiar ways in our culture. Whether understanding “freedom” as the opportunity to live a radically individualized life or “success” as the acquisition of wealth and reputation, our cultural definitions often hijack our ability to live fully into the individuals and communities God designed us to be. What might it look like to embrace a sacred vocation that frees us to live interdependent lives with God and neighbor, while discovering our best success is joining God in the world he is making?

We all want to have a clear understanding of what our unique contribution is in the world. We want our calling to meet the worlds deepest needs, but often the cost to live into that reality is too high. I recently spoke at George Fox University in which I share much of my personal journey of vocation.
What can we learn from those who have gone before us? Are we willing to say “yes” even if it might cost wealth, power and reputation?

The Tragedy of Self-Appointed Prophets

Woman-yelling-in-megaphoneThe world is swirling with issues.

Picking up my phone and opening my news app each morning is being met with more and more dread each day.

When something hits the news, it is fascinating to watch people jump onto social media and begin “yelling” out their answers for how to heal our broken systems.

Of course, there is almost always at least two completely different opinions for how these problems should be fixed, which typically leads to people drawing lines in the sand, picking their stance and not budging. Relationships often fracture and a polarized a world gets more polarized, rendering it immobilized for the work of reconciliation.

Whether it’s on our Facebook page, Twitter feed or around our table, I assume most of us can think of an interaction where this unhelpful and potentially destructive reality played out.

So, does this “yelling” of our opinions actually help heal the broken systems and the people whom those systems are breaking?

I’m all about using our voices to call out injustice. By offering a critique of power and a hope for those on the underside of it, the ancient prophets did this beautifully throughout history.

But, in a globalized, virtually interconnected world, I’m concerned we have too many self appointed prophets (which, by definition is NOT a prophet), and not near enough practitioners. Far more constructive than a verbal or written argument is actually doing something.

I don’t think the world needs more armchair advocates…especially when our arguing or defending leads to the fracture of real life relationships. I’m not saying we all need to passively waltz around the world’s issues. No, I’m proposing we actively engage them in two ways:

1. Healthy, constructive discourse that doesn’t require we all agree to remain in relationship 
2. We spend less time talking, and use our best energy to actually do something

What this world needs are people who are willing to role up their sleeves and get dirty. And not for a week or a month or a year, but for the long haul.

The world needs people embedded in the center of these conflicts equipped with the practices that make for peace. These people don’t have time to debate solutions on social media because they are already hard at work making the solutions a reality. They don’t have to transplant themselves to the center of the issue, because they are already embedded in it. They don’t have to seek the approval of their constituency, because it’s not about their reputation, it’s about the flourishing of those they have been called to serve.

They are sharing meals with the forgotten in their neighborhood.

They are building lasting, mutually beneficial relationships with those of other faiths who we are often taught to fear.

They are sitting at the hospital bedside of the family who is suffering loss at the hands of unjust people and systems.

They are in the churches, schools and homes of our black and brown communities to listen, learn and support.

They are in detention centers and deportation shelters to pray with and look in the eyes of those in our society’s shadows.

They are encouraging and walking with our faith and political leaders as they navigate the potentially compromising positions of power.

It’s a way of life that is costly. It is not glamorous. And it often comes without our desired outcomes being met in the short term and, potentially, not even in the long term.

This is the work of a trained, strategic and intentional community of Jesus followers who are prepared to move to the center of our society’s conflicts with the weapons to transform rather than destroy. It’s the gritty, subversive and costly work of peacemaking.

More than ever, I believe the work of peacemaking is discipleship. It’s the long hard road of the cross that will lead to the flourishing of others and allow our deepest calling to meet the worlds deepest needs. May it be so. 

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NOTE: The work of The Global Immersion Project is to train and mobilize the kind of people I describe. We call them Everyday Peacemakers. To learn more or participate in one of our international or domestic trainings, go here: http://globalimmerse.org

A Prayer for the Church in 2015

washing-of-the-feet_1395636541-1ix28fxI taught on “passion” at a conference on New Year’s Eve (strange, eh?!) and have been wrestling w/it’s implications for the Jesus Community in 2015. In Jesus, we see that passion looks like a cross. As such, passion for the Jesus Community looks like lives shaped by the cross for the flourishing of others. Passion is not a one-off experience of euphoric enthusiasm, it is the fuel that sustains our life-long sacrifice and commitment…day after day after day after day. 

In short, Passion looks less like raising hands in praise and more like bending a knee to wash each others feet.

Imagine a world where the Church spent less energy defending ideas and more energy inviting into a way of life.

Imagine a world where the Church spent less energy trying to “win” and more energy trying to give itself away.

Imagine a world where the Church gave its best energy to healing the wounds of the world, rather than creating more (whether intentionally or un-intentionally).

Imagine a world where the Church spent less energy seeking revenge on its “enemies” and more energy seeking to love them and pursue reconciliation.

Imagine a world where the Church, like Jesus, chose to daily bear a cross of suffering and self-sacrifice so that others may flourish.

The good news? The Church isn’t an idea; it’s you and me. Let’s start washing some feet.

May it be so for the Church in 2015.

Owning My Dysfunction and the Freedom of Dependence

unnamedIt was nearly five years ago that Janny and I moved to Golden Hill, a neighborhood in San Diego, to be part of a little faith community committed to love God and neighbor in some of the most tangible ways we had ever encountered. As you can imagine, we were curious as to what all this would mean for us as individuals, as a young family and for our role within the Church as a whole. It was a great unknown, but we were willing to “role the dice” and did so with much conviction. 

We could have never foreseen the beauty and richness that would birth forth out of a community of people committed to share life together as we stumble towards Jesus on the same streets, parks, homes, pubs and coffee shops. There was nothing flashy about it and I can remember thinking early on, “So this is it? Life just keeps happening day after day after day after day?”

I would soon realize that’s the beauty of it. Church wasn’t something we attended on our own time and at our own convenience, it was something we participated in every moment of everyday.

In fact, that was our path toward discipleship. It’s not an event, it’s nothing flashy and it certainly doesn’t lift our names/titles/roles above our neighbors. We can’t pat ourselves on the back after a successful event that brought in the masses; we can only love in such a way that we stand in each other’s pain and joy on Monday…and Tuesday…and Wednesday…There is no day off from discipleship or our commitment to a place and a people who inhabit it. And rather than grab for power or prestige, the road to discipleship requires we give it away for the flourishing of others. 

When the preverbal sh*%t hits the fan in one of our lives or our neighbors lives, we sit in the middle of it. We certainly don’t always do this well, and we have a ton to learn, but we do our best to contend for one another in costly and creative ways.

Why? Well, because that is what we think Jesus meant when he said to love God and neighbor (Jesus went as far as calling us to love our “enemy”). In Jesus, we see that contending for others might even look like giving up your life.

In the end, embracing the Jesus’ way of the cross is really freeing. When I realize life isn’t about “me” (which I still struggle with EVERYDAY…ask Janny) and my flourishing, but about advancing the good of those around me, I am free to truly love and be loved. Because faithful discipleship doesn’t require that I am comfortable, that I will “succeed,” or even that I will survive. 

It. Just. Doesn’t. 

And when I spend so much of my time and energy seeking my personal advance, it highjacks my ability to follow Jesus and it does harm to those around me. 

After three years of learning and being mentored by trusted guides, our little faith community was no longer little and had grown to the point where we needed to multiply (rather than get bigger, we multiply and start new faith communities). It was then that Janny and I were entrusted to lead one of the new communities.

We’ve now been leading and walking with this community of Jesus’ followers for over two years and this past Sunday night, we created some space to reflect and celebrate. Sitting around a bonfire, we shared what we have learned about God, ourselves and our neighborhood over the past couple years. It was beautiful and reminded me of the value of simply acknowledging and celebrating the good gifts of this life. 

We shared about the times we helped pay each others rent when one of us was struggling financially. 

We shared about the gift of new friendships with neighbors where we learned about Jesus in the most unexpected and beautiful ways. 

We shared about the gift of vulnerability and transparency. 

We laughed at the many days where we took care of each other’s kids because we were all sleep deprived.  

I confessed that I simply can’t follow Jesus alone and that this community has helped me own that. We all know the point isn’t community in and of itself, but that community is a means and context for us to all more faithfully follow Jesus. 

Bottom line: I need a community of practice that requires me to live the stuff I spend so much time talking about. If I don’t have a community and neighborhood that invites me to give myself away in the way Jesus gave himself away, I miss out on living into who I was created to be. And, those around me miss out on the gift I have been created to give to the world. 

We concluded the evening by offering prayers of blessing and sending over our community as we move towards the start of another year. Mine was simple and I think it was meant more for me than anyone else: 

“May we receive the gift of community we have been given with deep gratitude. And may we not see this way of life as a list of obligations to fulfill, but as an opportunity for each of us to be fully human.” 

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NOTE: Paul’s words in Philippians 2:1-11 offer a beautiful picture of the above based on the life of Jesus and the activity of the early Church. 

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