Paul E. Miller | February 28, 2014
Our modern search for community includes thousands of questions: Where can I go to find a place where I am loved? Who do I know? Who am I comfortable with? How can the church be a real community and not just a social club?
Instinctively, we know what makes for a good community: a safe place where I am included, where I am known and loved, and I in turn know and love others. There is much beauty in this desire for intimacy. But it can sometimes be just a veiled request for feeling good. Once we discover that other people are deeply flawed, we often pull back, thinking everything is wrong.
When feelings are the standard, we are left adrift on a turbulent sea. Every good feeling becomes a new path, so we become good at starting to love, but bad at finishing. But intimacy comes from steadfast love.
Yes, it is good to be in a place where we are welcomed and known. But making that quest central is idolatry. And like all idolatry, it ultimately disappoints. Our desperate search for perfect community leaves us critical and, eventually, solitary.
The Problem with Community
The problem is we don’t find community; we create it. We can’t get at intimacy and community directly—they come from love. There’s nothing wrong with asking yourself who you feel comfortable with, but consider the questions Jesus asked: Who can I love? Who is wounded? Who is left out?
Jesus was proactive in creating inclusive communities. There was no other way. At one dinner party Jesus told the host that he had invited all the wrong people:
When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just. (Luke 14:12–14)
Creating an inclusive community is the holy grail of modern culture, but actually doing it is extremely difficult.
The very qualities that create a tight-knit community work against including outsiders. That is, communities are almost always built around common interests or relationships. The stranger may not share those common interests. Why include someone when you don’t understand one another?
After Jesus’s resurrection he told Mary Magdalene, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17), alluding to the community he created by his death and resurrection. All Christians are bound together with him as fellow brothers and sisters.
Instead of pursuing intimacy, we should pursue love. At the heart of any lasting community is the presence of Jesus leading us into his dying-resurrection love, the Redeemer creating mini-redeemers. No matter what our situation—single, happily married, divorced, or in a difficult marriage—we can create community through love.