Recently I’ve been thinking about what it means to build community.
For some community means mutual habitation, a mere proximity to another individual. For others it means fellowship with those we agree with, a kind of meeting place for members of a club with a set of predetermined beliefs. But I’d argue it’s neither of these. Community is far more important and far more difficult a thing to come by. Very few people find community, that is, true, life-giving community. I’ve been lucky enough to find community in my life. Though it’s not without a price.
Today I wanted to share a few thoughts on how to build community. Many of these come from my own experience, but other sources were helpful in solidifying these experiences. Namely, two wonderful books: Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (link), and The Passion for Life by Jurgen Moltmann (link). I recommend both.
These three keys, for lack of a better term, are not merely ways to build community, but also ways to discover and develop community where you already are. You don’t have to go out and start a new organization to “find” community. You can build community wherever you are, discovering it in your neighbors, friends, and family. These keys, therefore, are guidelines that help build a strong, life-giving community anywhere you might be.
C.S. Lewis is known for having said, “to love at all is to be vulnerable.” Nothing could be more true when in comes to community building. If you want to develop true community, you have to be vulnerable. You must go outside of yourself and open yourself up to another. This of course means opening yourself up to rejection, pain, and sadness. There is always risk in community. Without vulnerability you will live a non-life: a life of mere existence, and nothing more. In order to truly live, to be fully alive, you must be vulnerable and risk.
Vulnerability encourages more vulnerability. The first step in developing vulnerability around you is being vulnerable yourself. In order to open up your environment, you must begin by opening up yourself. If you want to develop a genuine community, a community without masks, the first step is to open up your heart and be vulnerable.
Jurgen Moltmann writes that “acceptance is the atmosphere of humanity.” Once vulnerability is developed, the next step is acceptance. Without acceptance vulnerability will die and the old, stale ways of being will return. Vulnerability that ends in acceptance is sustainable vulnerability. Acceptance, therefore, is essential to the development of community.
The purpose of community is intimacy. I love the definition Danny Silk gives for intimacy. He calls it “into-me-you-see”. Intimacy means vulnerability, the practice of being genuine, and the acceptance of another person. Therefore, acceptance is the next step in developing community.
On a side note, acceptance must be vulnerable acceptance. It is not conditional acceptance, but unconditional. It is therefore acceptance given to another person despite their response. It is this sort of acceptance that solidifies a community.
The last “key” to developing community is communion. Communion is the “common-union” of our life. It is the element of unity. Without vulnerability or acceptance, the communion of community will always be fake and superficial. But when vulnerability and acceptance are in place, communion is the final key to building a life-giving community.
But what is this “common-union” we share? In the Christian sense it is Jesus Christ, and more specifically, the cross of Jesus Christ. Jurgen Moltmann argues that we are united only when we stand together “under the cross”. Because “under the cross we all stand empty-handed”. The final element to a thriving community is the humility that comes as we collectively stand under the suffering of Jesus Christ. We stand there empty-handed, exposed, vulnerable, but wholly accepted, free, and loved. This is where community thrives and life is experienced to the fullest.
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