Christian Community - What it is not

This post is a difficult one to write because I know what Christian community is not and I don't want to sound bitter or unforgiving.

Believe me. The Lord does not let me get away with an unforgiving attitude. I don't want him to, because unforgiveness kills the spirit. So, I'm letting the Lord deal with the hurts I've received and it's not easy.

I still think the problem needs to be dealt with in a reasonable manner, so that's why I've been writing these posts on community. Today, I am going to deal with the church community ; however, these things can apply to any group where Christians gather, like German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer defines.

An Unhealthy Community Pushes People Away

According to Leadership Journal, here are six reasons why young people are leaving the church (Barna Group says that six out of 10 young people are leaving the church. That's a lot!)

Isolationism. One-fourth of 18- to 29-year-olds say church demonizes everything outside church, including the music, movies, culture, and technology that define their generation.

Shallowness. One-third call church boring, about one-fourth say faith is irrelevant and Bible teaching is unclear. One-fifth say God is absent from their church experience.

Anti-science. Up to one-third say the church is out of step on scientific developments and debate.

Sex. The church is perceived as simplistic and judgmental. For a fifth or more, a "just say no" philosophy is insufficient in a techno-porno world. Young Christian singles are as sexually active as their non-churched friends, and many say they feel judged.

Exclusivity. Three in 10 young people feel the church is too exclusive in this pluralistic and multicultural age. And the same number feel forced to choose between their faith and their friends.

Doubters. The church is not a safe place to express doubts, say over one-third of young people, and one-fourth have serious doubts they'd like to discuss.

And I wouldn't limit this to 18 to 29 year old people. There are plenty of people in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s who won't attend church for these reasons as well.

What does this have to do with being a community? Everything. Did you notice some of the reasons? "The church demonizes", "Faith is irrelevant", the church is "simplistic and judgmental", the church is "not a safe place to discuss doubts". This flies in the face of what we discussed a couple of days ago. Remember? A community shares identity in its faith. Love grows from this faith, at least partly by allowing people to grow. By not being interested in what our young people (and older people too) think and feel, the church is in effect saying that it doesn't care. It seems that in this circumstance, the unhealthy community is simply catering to people with like minds, rather than sharing community because of a common identity in faith. We are uncomfortable with people who think differently so we push them away. So, people who recognize that Christ died for them and are trying to follow him are not comfortable in the "body of Christ" because they have different idea than those who belong (or perhaps give large tithe checks?). That doesn't make sense at all and it's not right.

An Unhealthy Community Gossips

Have you ever walked into a room and knew that you were the subject of discussion before entering? Uncomfortable, isn't it? Or, better yet, have you ever walked into church excited about worshiping God and then realized that the old lady two rows down was giving you a very obvious dirty look? That's really uncomfortable. Both of these things have happened to me and I didn't like it.

No one feels welcome in a community where he or she was greeted warmly at church on Sunday morning and then that afternoon finds out through Facebook or some other Internet posting that he or she is the topic of a hot conversation. The messages are "encrypted" (like on Facebook), or anonymous, like one post that spread vicious lies about my family and was shared with a bunch of people who didn't even know us. This is not conducive to trust, especially in the family of God. In fact, it breeds ill feelings. And, when it's anonymous, the ill feelings have no where to go, so they just flow onto everyone you might think is a gossip.

Like I said, the Lord has worked and is working on me. My intention is to help, not blast anyone.

What gossip does is slowly isolates its victim, like a pack of lionesses do when they hunt. They go for the weakest gazelle, isolate it and then pounce. No other gazelles help the isolated one because they are so busy protecting themselves. They are just glad it wasn't them this time.

The best thing to do about gossip is to not spread it. Another thing to do is check out the story with the one who is being talked about. If you can't do this then you have no business listening. This, unfortunately, is not what happens. We all love to hear little tidbits about each other, especially when we don't like or are jealous of a person. I say "we" because I've done this before myself. Everyone has. It's one of the weaknesses of human nature. The mature Christian, though, knows when to tell the other person to keep his or her mouth shut. He or she also knows when to keep his or her own mouth shut. If you have questions, ask yourself, "Would I want someone to say this about me?" Or, "Can I tell this person what's being said about him or her?" If the answer is "no" then we shouldn't be taking part in that "feeding frenzy".

In his book Life Together, Bonhoeffer described this problem and offers advice to people who may have loose lips:

Often we combat our evil thoughts most effectively if we absolutely refuse to allow them to be verbalized. It is certain that the spirit of self-justification can only be overcome by the spirit of grace; and it is just as certain that the individual judgmental thought can be limited and suppressed by never allowing it to be spoken except as a confession of sin.... Thus it must be a decisive rule of all Christian community life that each individual is prohibited from talking about another Christian in secret. It is clear and will be shown in what follows that this prohibition does not include the word of admonition that is spoken personally to one another. However, talking about others in secret is not allowed even under the pretense of help and goodwill. For it is precisely in this guise that the spirit of hatred between believers always creeps in, seeking to cause trouble.

An Unhealthy Community Does Not Listen

Everything's just peachy in the unhealthy community, and they will tell you so, over and over. They'll even tell you this in response to a hurt, or a criticism, making you feel like you're the one at fault for even thinking such things. Unhealthy communities do not listen to people. They don't listen to constructive criticism, nor do they listen to each other. Unhealthy community members sift through a conversation, listening for things that tell them whether or not they should remain in a conversation; the more negative and hurtful the better. They listen for gossip - negative talk that is okay with them.

Bonhoeffer says:

The first service one owes to others in the community involves listening to them. Just as our love for God begins with listening to God's Word, the beginning of love for other Christians is learning to listen to them. ... We do God's work for our brothers and sisters when we learn to listen to them. So often Christians, especially preachers, think that their only service is always to have to "offer" something when they are together with other people. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking. Many people seek a sympathetic ear and do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking even when they should be listening. But Christians who can no longer listen to one another will soon no longer be listening to God either; they will always be talking even in the presence of God.

If the people in the church would truly listen and respond reasonably with an open mind and heart, I believe that this mass exodus that is taking place in the church wouldn't be happening. We would be able to keep up with the times; get involved with science, make faith alive, help those who doubt, give good reasons to wait for sexual activity and provide programs for those who are outside of its norm (according to research, this includes college students and single people). Instead, many churches are caught up in demonizing the culture, making everything "unchristian" sound as though Satan himself delivered from the coffers of hell that which the culture enjoys . When we demonize the culture, we can't see good in anything and that makes us old sourpusses.

Who wants to be around a bunch of sourpusses?

I'll close here. There is more, I am sure. From my Internet surfing, I've noticed that this is a big problem and the community of believers needs to do something about it. This does not, however, mean that we accept sinful behavior, but we need to be a place where someone caught in a sinful lifestyle will feel God's love and acceptance. I'll close with this quote from Zora Neale Hurston:
Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.

Simple and true.

Many blessings today,