In some ways, fantasy shapes my view of Christian community (kind of like Playboy shaped my young impressionable mind about male-female relationships).
And some of my dreams are shaped by Scripture (a better starting place but it still may involve fantasy).
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47 NIV)
I dream it.
But I don’t live it—not in the big way I see in the Acts passage.
And, in conversations, I hear other disgruntled dreamers.
Some have been hurt by the Christian community.
Some have found Christian community constraining and dull. They’ve simply lost interest.
Some have measured the Christian community by standards both unrealistic and unbiblical and found it wanting.
Maybe this problem is localized, just in our small town. Perhaps you’re living the dream. But me …? I’m still working on it.
Here are things I’ve come to realize.
I’ve romanticized Christian community. I’ve done this in the same way I romanticized marriage. Before marriage, I envisioned long walks on the beach, candlelight dinners, laughing long into the night, and, well, um … amazing physical intimacy. Suffice it to say, I didn’t realize we would live so far from the beach nor how much work was involved in setting the table every night nor how lighted candles raised the room temperature in July nor how intimacy of any kind takes time. To not recognize the difficulties is like camping near a swamp and not expecting mosquitos.
I’ve forgotten what generated all those letters to the New Testament churches. I look at one paragraph in Acts and think, “Oh, if only we could get back to the New Testament church.” Then I read Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, the Ephesians, Timothy, Philemon, etc. Almost always he addressed problems within congregations. He corrected their thinking, their speaking, and their actions. Simply put—from the Gospels to Revelation, problems prompted the New Testament writings.
I am a part of the problem today. If I only dream about Christian community, if I simply write about it, then I remain a part of the problem. Like people sitting in the stands complaining about their team’s lousy performance or the coach’s stupid decisions, I’ve only added to the ponderous burden of unrealistic expectations.
On the other hand, if I participate in Christian community, allow for its shortcomings, and remain committed to working through the difficulties, I’m engaged and motivated to seeing Christian community improve, deepen, and grow.
What must I do to participate in a growing Christian community?
First, I must let the dream die. By dream, I mean the swamp-with-no-mosquitos fantasy I’ve created in my head. Like marriage, I have to accept the realities and shortcomings of being in relationship with real people rather than some romanticized 5 X 7 glossy mental photograph of Christian community.
Second, I must give community time. No shortcut exists for long-term, deep fellowship. Real intimacy takes time.
Third, I must do the work. That means studying, praying, talking, listening, laughing, crying, offering comfort, being comforted, celebrating, and worshiping both in private moments and public ones.
I love my wife. She’s my best … friend … ever!
WE HAVE …
… taken long walks on the beach.
… had dinner by candlelight.
… laughed long into the night.
… and … well … you know.
But it’s taken both time and work for married life to surpass my original dream.
In the same way, I’m committed to Christian community, the reality, not the dream. I expect, like marriage, the long-term benefits will knock the socks off my original misinformed fantasy.
I’m curious. How do you handle the tension between fantasy and reality? What’s your experience of Christian community in your town? What’s the work of community look like for you?
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