I learned that song while working with a children’s ministry at a Disciples of Christ church in Missouri. It was one of the kids’ favorite songs; and it was one of mine, too. This simple song has a profound truth within it: as individuals we make up something greater than ourselves.
That’s what community is–a group of people who together make up something greater than themselves. At our best churches are thriving, healthy communities. We need to be careful, though. A church isn’t necessarily a community. Or, as one of my favorite writers says:
“Just putting a bunch of people together in a church building doesn’t make them a community. Community is about relationships and making connections. That’s spiritual work. And it may or may not happen in a church.” -Diana Butler Bass, Christianity After Religion
When churches function as communities it is incredible spiritual work. Together we make up something greater than ourselves: the Body of Christ.
Just as there are different parts of a body that have different functions, different churches and individuals have different functions. Not all communities can work in the same way for some obvious reasons like language and geographical place and other not-so-obvious reasons like work schedules and length of attention span.
There’s a type of church my mom and seminary friends call “drive-thru churches.” People show up on Sunday morning, stay an allotted amount of time, get out of the worship service or Sunday School what they ordered, and leave. In these churches people also tend to get mad if things aren’t done “their way.”
The church isn’t just Sunday morning worship, of course; but for many churches Sunday morning is where the most community can and often does happen. I have spent many hours participating in church music/worship planning. Let me tell you what, even in the most communal-oriented worship planning teams/groups there’s still a push to have things done “our way” or “the right way.” This thinking limits us. It limits how we see God at work in our world, and it limits how empathetic we are to others.
But (thankfully) there are other types of church communities. Recently a pastor friend said to me, “When people join the church we should sing their least favorite song or hymn. They need to know our community isn’t about accommodation to their personal tastes.”
Church communities aren’t about us individually. Many of us long for community, a place to be known and to know others deeply. But if we seek it out in a church community, it’s hard. We’re looking to become something greater than ourselves. Jesus following communities are about being the church together, about being the Body of Christ for our community and for the world.
Coming Up Next Week–Longing for Community Part 2: Jesus Never Said It Would Be Easy