Call me sentimental, but this time of year seems like a good time to reflect on community life. Chris Marshall wrote: "I often say that church is not someplace you go but it's a people you belong to."
(Please share your own experiences with The Shared Life via comments below).
I have had some awesome community-life experiences and... I have been immensely disappointed at times. Big surprise!
First-- Some Background on the Shared Life
It seems to me that nothing is more basic to the simple-church / house-church thing than sharing life with others-a small community of intimate friends. In this context we are able to live out the "one-another" aspect of the Christian life:
- Honor one another
- Bear with one another in love
- Encourage one another
- Accept one another
- Serve one another
This type of powerful caring cannot take place in a crowd. It requires a small group of people who are committed to each other and to God's purposes for their lives.
In the context of this type of community life healing takes place. Henri Nouwen suggests that "when we are willing to confess both to ourselves and the other that we too are broken, that we too have a handicap, and that we too need a place to grow, we can build a home together and offer each other an intimate place." It is this intimate place that provides the seedbed for healing and transformation!
In addition, this type of community life provides an environment where we learn to root for each other to discover and enter into God's very best. Eldredge coined the term "intimate allies" to describe the way in which we support each other in our personal journeys as well as find ways to "go on quests together."
A Personal Shared Life Experience
I could share many wonderful stories of experiences I have had in community, but the following story stands out:
About two years ago I was going through a very difficult time with a son who was struggling spiritually and acting out in several self-destructive ways. I have been through several seasons of loss and pain, but this was a particularly grievous time. True to my usual self, however, I had escaped into some form of numbness and was not fully aware of how deep my grief was.
This was my condition as I stumbled into a house church meeting, a meeting of friends and people who are committed to the shared life. I came, frankly, with nothing to offer others or God. I simply came. I ate with others and then sat as worship began to take place around me. I was too disengaged to take part. I simply closed my eyes and sat still in a foggy, numbed-out state of mind.
My friends knew what was going on and I assumed they were content to just let me be and to soak in a bit of God's presence.
However, after sitting for some time, with eyes closed, I felt something touch my foot. I could not imagine what it was. Opening my eyes slowly I realized that a woman-a dear friend and caring person-had kneeled down in front of me and was washing my shoe-clad foot. I was stunned and surprised, but I could not really take it in. My emotions were running in slow motion. I continued to sit and try to absorb what was happening. Then, moments later, my other foot was being touched. When I looked again, I saw an older man-one of my closest friends and mentors whom I look up to and admire-kneeling at my other foot and washing my shoe in a gesture of God's love for me.
Even now, two years later, my eyes become moist as I remember the spontaneous, cathartic release of tears and sobbing that broke from my heart as I took in the love that was being shown to me. His love, shown through others, broke down the walls of numbness and self-protection that allowed my raw wound to be exposed and thus healing to begin.
Challenges with the Shared Life
Ah, but there are also the challenges. The times when community life just seems to make you want to pull out your hair (if you have any) and scream "aaaaggggghhhhhhh!!!!!" Perhaps I should avoid specifics here (I never know who ends up reading one of my blog posts) and just say that there are times when all of us want to make community life all about our self: "What's in it for me?" "Why isn't anyone paying attention to my needs?" "Why are others being so self-centered?" "Why is so-and-so being so hurtful?"
None of us absolutely love working through conflicts, dealing with difficult people, or persevering when community life is less-than rewarding. But that is all part of the package. The good, the bad, and the ugly.
Yet, I personally hang in because I believe it is God's purpose for transformation and because it is, at times, an indescribable life-supporting gift.
As I have expressed, I would love to hear the experiences of others!