Fifteen years ago God birthed in my heart a desire for community…. and I went on a search. I wanted to find a community that was calling me, or that I was being called to, or that I could at least join in good conscience feeling that I was getting involved in something I could relate to and that would embrace me as well.
I wasn’t really looking for a Sunday morning service deal – I was looking for believers who either lived together or almost lived together. I used to say, “When I graduate college I’m going to join a christian commune.” This might strike fear into the hearts of those for whom “commune” somehow conjours up Jim Jones or some other cultic picture, but for me, I figured since Jim Jones was dead and gone that he couldn’t be messing up all the good and decent communes out there at present…
And there is an old adage, “If you find the perfect church, don’t join it, because then it won’t be perfect any more.” I found an amazing group of people after a decade of searching, and felt in my spirit the liberty and invitation to become part of them. I did – I joined and gave my heart to them, and had a season in my life that I count as a precious gift from God. But a year or so after I joined, they disbanded. Was it the fault of the old adage about the perfect church being ruined by your presence? I say that altogether in jest… but the fact is that my community is scattered and gone, although forever in my heart and the hearts of those who I shared that experience with.
After Gemeinshaft scattered, I went on my search again. And here is what I found –
I found a lot of “christian peacemaking communities.” These communities exist to “create peace and end war.” This is good. I applaud them for their efforts. The problem is, that I’m just not very highly dedicated to that topic. I mean, I like peace…but the theme of war and peace doesn’t resound with me on a totally deep level. It’s something I might donate to, or help out with here and there, but not something that I really feel called to give my whole life to pursuing. And, doctrinally, I’m not really a believer that it is always wrong for a government to use military action. Regrettable? Yes. Overused? Definitely. But just…not really my area of passion. Perhaps I need to revisit this, and essentially repent. I dunno.
But at any rate, that makes it hard for me to decide to join one of these groups….even though I’m a hippy at heart in many other ways (organic, environmental, free thinking, etc…)
On the other hand, you have the monastic groups. And I’ll break these in to two categories:
1) Charismatic monasticism (generally NOT called this) represented by places such as the International House of Prayer
2) New Monasticism.
Generally, the charismatic groups do not seem to actually live in community. They tend to still live very individualistic lifestyles, except to come together regularly for extended periods of prayer. And then, even then, it is more like a performance thing than a community thing – with a stage, and spectators. I love the idea of praying 24/7. But doing so in such a performance rather than organic way bugs me.
It also gets old. I can only pray in a room so long before I am dying to bust out of the room and tell someone about Jesus. And these groups don’t usually have much of a grid for doing things like that together. So I don’t think I’d fit. Unless I live on donations and get them to send me off with YWAM or some other missionary organization. I can’t see myself doing that.
On the other hand, there are the New Monastic communities. These guys believe in “living it” as a community. Reaching the poor, the hungry, the needy, the destitute. There is no stage, performance, or spectators. Life is together – life is happily messy, people rubbing each other the wrong way and learnign to work it out and so forth. But here’s where I don’t mesh – I don’t relate to God through ritual. And these communities readily embrace christian rituals, christian meditation, and tend to disregard or reject most forms of charismatic practice. I really want to participate in charismatic gifts with any community I would be part of, and I just can’t see rituals fitting in real well with my spiritual practice, simply because I don’t seem to meet with the Lord in most rituals or liturgies. It just doesn’t work for me..whereas singing in the spirit or praying in tongues, especially with others, is awesome.
So how do I reconcile all these things? *sigh* I wish I had a community. I need to find my destiny, and I truly do believe that will only be walking side by side with others in Him.
May 7, 2009 at 12:48 am
Believe it or not, I get emails every week asking this exact question: How do I find community?
I wish I knew the answer. I don’t. I know that many, many, many people are seeking community all around the United States and around the world.
So, what do I tell people. I tell them to do two things: 1) Pray. Confess to God that you want community and desire to live in community. Ask him to bring others into your life with whom you can share your life. And 2) look for those people in your life. They may be there already in aspects of your life that you don’t expect. Seek to deepen the relationships that you already have.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you (or others) are not doing these things. Hopefully, this comment will simply be a reminder that community (at least, the community that we truly desire and need) cannot be designed or built by us. We must completely rely on God for this type of community. Truly, our fellowship with one another is indeed fellowship with the Father and with his Son (1 John 1:3).
One more thing: I’m beginning to think that Christian community is not intended to be forever. In other words, community should multiply, which means they must divide. You now have the opportunity to take “Gemeinshaft” (a wonderful word, by the way) to other people.
Sorry for the length of this comment, but community is very important to me.
May 7, 2009 at 6:58 am
Hey Heather, I totally feel you on this one. I have been involved in HOP type prayer stuff, including being on a harp-and-bowl team at the prayer house in State College, PA one summer. It was a lot of fun while I was doing it, but I mean, I found it fun, not necessarily whatever other people are thinking one is supposed to be getting out of it. (And I’m ok with so-called spiritual stuff being fun. I mean, He’s into fun stuff!) But I never really lived in the kind of community like I hear Gemeinshaft was. I used to live in the Lebanon area, and my wife I guess knew people involved in it, but I never did. Either way, I can’t handle the ritualistic stuff either. My dad is an episcopal priest, and I’m just like “gag me” when I visit over a weekend, cuz church is just soooo boring. And I lack the sense of Holy Spirits strong presence there, too (I know he’s there in some sense, I just can’t feel Him like elsewhere, where I CAN feel Him).
As a side question, what kind of “Christian meditation” are you talking about? I hope you don’t mean the “In hebrew it means ‘mutter’ kind” Gosh. If all I did was talk, talk, talk, when do I shut up long enough to hear God talk back?
I wish I had a community too. But I’m finding more and more an online community. Not necessarily what I’d prefer, but it is certainly better than nothing. Also, see if you can find some hang-out time with some of the other facebookians we chat with. Could be in for some Holy Ghost fun!!!!
On another note, I almost wonder if these “communities” aren’t really where it’s at. I mean, when we have communities like that it can be good, but I think it can almost get too purposeful. I mean, it takes a lot of energy to “be Christian” in a group.. I was in a ministry school in Harrisburg, and essentially lived in a situation like that, and after a while, I was just exhausted with the activity that was created, with very little time for anything relational with God. I guess part of me counts my blessings that I’m not there now. But another part of me wouldn’t mind some cool friends who lived nearby. . .
May 7, 2009 at 6:58 am
May 7, 2009 at 3:11 pm
Why do great communities always seem to disband?
May 7, 2009 at 6:11 pm
I like how much you’ve explored community and what it means to you. I think you make some very accurate and interesting observations about your own expectations and about the communities you’ve experienced. As I read I see much of what doesn’t meet your desires seems to be that you really prefer operating in what I call the Charismatic stream yet culturally or in form those communities are not fulfilling other needs you have.
Is it possible that God is trying to add to your experience other expressions of how he communes with us? I highly recommend a book by Richard Foster called Streams of Living Water. It revolutionized my journey. I saw so many ways outside my own preferences and experiences that he was doing terrific things. Along with my discovery came an appreciation to experience him in community in ways outside my personal preferences and actually outside myself.
Surprisingly I have been very blessed by some of the things that weren’t previously in my comfort zone. I began to experience true community in that it became about all of us experiencing God together in all the ways he can be seen. It wasn’t about me, it was about Him, about us.
I also agree with Alan that community multiplication is tremendously important. As we move from one community to another, (for the right reasons) we experience something a little different each time. We also are left with a mosaic of memories/experiences that contribute to an idea of what eternity in community may look like, albeit in shadow form. Keep seeking. Keep growing. Blessings…
May 7, 2009 at 9:44 pm
This is a big question for me too – how do we find community, how do communities form?
But help is on the way … Frank Viola is writing about it. 😉
I had this exchange with him on Facebook in the context of his current book “From Eternity to Here”
Andrew Black at 23:24 on 30 April
Frank, at the end of Part 3 you give a graphic description of an eight year experience you had with a group who lived as a shared life community.
Have you any guidance on how such groups come together or find one another? On page 218 you say it was a “group of Christians of like mind”.
For such a group to function, what is the maximum margin of deviation in that “like mindedness”. What is essential that people agree on?
Frank Viola at 23:27 on 30 April
Andrew, that’s the million dollar question. and it’s what I’m writing about right now. The book will come out near the end of the year. It will be rather comprehensive.
May 8, 2009 at 3:50 am
Sometimes I wonder if we already live in community but don’t realize it.
Everything I do (or don’t do) affects someone, somewhere, in some way, even for generations to come. They may be people I know, or they may be people I will never meet. I might affect them positively, or negatively, or neutrally. But it is impossible for my existence to NOT affect others.
Isn’t that what community is? We affect each other. Our lives influence others. Is it possible (or desirable) to think of the entire human race as our community? (That’s not rhetorical. I really don’t know.) I think what we’re looking for is not so much community, but love. *People* who love. People who love each other. People who care. People who want to build up the body of Christ. *That* is the challenge. But community is all around us, and it will always be there as long as there are other human beings on the planet. It is a certain disposition within others that we are seeking, a disposition to love, a disposition that people do not naturally exhibit.
Just a thought. Maybe you disagree. Thoughts?
May 12, 2009 at 11:24 pm
There really are little pods of Christians meeting here and there that enjoy together what you are looking for! Like you I abhor ritual (mainly because it’s ritual that almost killed me) and long for community where it’s scary, messy, shared, together and as much as possible unplanned by humans. The loose knit group I fellowship with varies greatly from week to week. About the only problem that’s unresolvable, or so I’ve found, is when someone takes offense at someone else and refuses to work toward reconciliation, opting instead to cut the object of pique out of his life . Otherwise, you have the whole gamut of human experience in the context of the living Body of Christ. Don’t give up! What you are seeking is out there!
May 26, 2009 at 8:05 am
that blog kicked rear. (I mean that in an extremely positive, Chuck Norris-like sense of the phrase.) I loved how you broke down the different forms of of monasticism. Lets just say having lived in KC for awhile, I was really, really, really able to relate to your thoughts on that. I’d be interested to hear/read your thoughts on Acts 2:42-44 as it relates to your search.
December 21, 2010 at 3:42 pm
I’m interested in joing such a community and totally empathise with all the pts/problems with existing formats raised oin this article. Does anyone know of any communes out there that fit the bill? In in the UK, near Bristol.
December 21, 2010 at 3:47 pm
P.S. Surely the only good basis would be relationships. Getting to know those you plan to live with first? Perhaps in a large house or block with a max of 12 in it? Then if things expanded further another block could grow nearby as a separate but linked entity, so the first relationships of 12 were not constantly being invaded. A looseknit grouping that maybe met up for main meetings twicwe a week, and to discuss progress and possible leadership developement organisation as/if things grew. With individauls fromn different blocks also mingling social reasons pot other reasons if they so wished as individuals?