No doubt about it, we’re experiencing a dramatic shift in our culture that has led people to fear community. Our culture is characterized by rabid individualism, the thought that I/me is more important than you/we. We live in a world that is driven by personal feelings and fulfillment instead of unity and mutual growth. And the more we focus on individuals, the more often we find conflict as individuals meet.
As a result, community has become a source of friction, tension, and fear. When individuals who have different – and not necessarily opposing – perspectives or goals, instead of working toward mutual satisfaction or benefit, there’s immediate friction. Even before we discover what another person’s point of view might be, we anticipate conflict; so we approach each other with an underlying tension. And simply because we don’t know, we let FUD rule – fear, uncertainty, doubt.
It’s no wonder so many folks prefer to be isolated from others. What we used to call neighborhoods are now designed as places where people share addresses within a plot of land that has been given a warm, welcoming “community” name but has limited access, sometimes gated and guarded. These communities are designed and built without sidewalks, but that’s OK; new homes are built without front porches, those relics of old-fashioned openness to neighbors. Now our homes are retreats or refuges, places where you can push a button to open the garage, drive in, and shut out the world.
Sadly, struggling churches often reflect the culture in which they live. Don’t think so? Go back through the letters to the churches – to the Church – in Revelation 2, 3. The concerns and rebukes of Jesus to the Church is often about how Christians look more like the world. That’s often what we see in churches today. So when the culture becomes self-centered and isolated, the church often follows suit.
That’s why conflict within the church is more often about personal preferences than biblical theology and doctrine (although those conflicts are often personal interpretation of Scripture). That’s when churches argue more about music style and volume than content. That’s when churches debate room temperature instead of whether they are “hot or cold” for Christ. That’s when churches are more concerned about bus trips than mission trips. That’s when churches focus on getting more people in the seats than getting Christ into people’s lives. While any of those points of distinction and division can be important, the discussion can be heated and messy, and many folks would rather leave angry than work through the mess toward unity and growth.
I get it; growing in community is hard work. It’s a lot easier to walk away and isolate yourself than to work toward growing in community. But the benefits of community far outweigh the fear of conflict and hard work. Among other benefits, we must remember that a healthy church community takes care of one another (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-37); encourages one another (Hebrews 10:24, 25); and grows and works together (Ephesians 4:11-13). Perhaps most importantly, remember that a healthy church community helps one another “in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:16).
If fear of conflict, tension, hard work, or general relational messiness is keeping you out of the community of the church, it’s time to push that fear aside and grow up. Fear has no place in the church; it’s opposed to the Gospel and to God himself. Remember: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:18, 19). God loved each one of us despite our own mess of sin; let’s love one another and grow in our messy community.