Bryan’s post, Gordon Fee: “The New Testament Does Not Understand Individualistic Christianity” , has inspired me to post this article from Helium that I wrote. It has consistently received high ratings, and that blesses me. Hopefully, my problems can cease being my complaints and become instead a way to improve things. I was about to write about Joshua 17, but I stopped when I realized I had made a factual error, so I may save that post for tomorrow. So I hope you all can receive edification through this article.
I’ve often had a hard time fitting into Christian communities. I have difficulty fitting into social situations in general, but especially Christian communities. There are many times when I hear, “You’ve got to join a small group! That’s the only way for you to grow.” But I get nervous in small groups. I don’t know when (or how) to jump into a conversation. At times, I’ve said things in small groups simply for the sake of saying something, since I want others to notice and hopefully like me. In response, the group leader rolls his eyes with impatience. Then, in meetings in which I don’t say anything at all, the group leader accuses me of not contributing. You just can’t satisfy some people!
There is also another problem: What if I don’t believe the same way as others in the group? Hard-core fundamentalism just doesn’t appeal to me. But, aside from that, what if a person has doubts? Perhaps he’s taking a Bible class, in which the professor presents the Bible as full of errors. Maybe he’s heard of evolution. Or she could be going through a hard time and the typical evangelical cliches aren’t helping her that much.
What’s the group supposed to do? It can spend the entire session wrestling with doubts, but that may not be edifying to everyone there. What if someone shares his doubts and causes others in the group to lose their faith?
A lot of Christians make an assumption: If people believe the same things about Jesus, then there is an automatic social connection among them. They have a warm feeling towards each other, as if they truly are brothers and sisters. But life doesn’t always work that way. Sure, there are Christians who click and become friends, as there are people in the secular world who are friends with one another. There’s nothing unique or special about Christians becoming friends. Also, like the secular world, the Christian community has its share of personality conflicts, strife, and bitterness. Christians may try to find ways to justify their viciousness. One Christian lady I know said that her enemy in the church is not a real Christian, so she can go ahead and treat him badly. But that is a poor excuse. She should just admit that she hates him rather than trying to dress her hatred up in a pious garb. Christians can be just as nasty as the secular world, if not more so. And the result is a loss of community.
Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of positive things about Christian community. There is a sense of solidarity that comes when people pray for one another. And there is nothing quite like having older, mature Christians who can counsel you. They’ve experienced the hard times. They’ve gained a lot of wisdom over the years. And they are usually not phased when someone questions the faith. They know what they believe, and they’ve seen God at work in their own lives.
I think that small groups should model themselves after Alcoholics Anonymous, a group I’ve frequently attended for observation. AA is not perfect, but, at good AA meetings, there is a sense of humility that pervades the group. There is no self-righteous attitude of “I’m a better Christian because I do such-and-such and God uses me more.” Rather, all of the people there know that they have made mistakes, often ones that are very damaging and humiliating. They do not come to meetings with a lot of pretense. They gather as people who are willing to grow along spiritual lines. They want to become more loving, joyous, gentle, patient, and free, since these are the attributes that can keep them sober.
Sure, they are not perfect, but they are honest when they are struggling. And everyone there is available to offer what’s worked for him or her personally. People take turns talking, and they’re not allowed to interrupt one another. So the meeting is not captivated by the person with the strongest personality. And in the best meetings, there is a belief that everyone has something edifying for the group. Not everyone there will identify with every single statement all of the time. But a statement can touch at least someone, if not in that particular meeting, then later down the road.
All of the things that I just mentioned are Christian principles. We are all sinners saved by grace, so we should not strut with a lot of pretense. We seek to grow spiritually and become more loving people. And we recognize that every single person in the body of Christ is valuable and indispensable.
Community doesn’t just happen. We have to make it happen. Half of the battle is having the right outlook. And the other half is structuring meetings so that everyone can contribute.