I heard the phrase again: “I need to live in community.” This time it came from my friend Lesa, who just returned from a long-term mission experience in several third world countries. “One of the hardest things about coming home is the rush of life in the USA. I grew used to a slower pace with teammates who often took time to read their Bibles and pray about things before we launched into our work.”
Lesa went on to explain that facing impossible problems caused by poverty and hardship caused her team to lean into God and each other literally every day. Their close ties were so critical that they became in every way a family…and she misses them!
I am hearing the “community” description frequently these days. Notice that they aren’t saying that they need “a community.” Over the years, some churches have used the term “Community” as part of their name. There was a time that this description was used to make it known that they wanted their church to be for all who lived in the community. Other churches used “Community” to infer that they were not affiliated with a denomination.
What my young adult friends are referring to when they talk about living “in community” is completely different. They long to have the kind of close, healthy relationships in which the masks come off and life is lived among each other with all its joy, its hope and its brutality. They don’t want a sanitized version of what previous generations have called “fellowship.” When I was young, “fellowship” simply meant that a group of Christ-followers ate together. They would eat, swap jokes and stories and the latest political controversy, all without the slightest transparency about what was really going on in their lives.
In those days, hard edges and painful discussions were reserved for the sanctity of their own homes and the safety of their families. I remember the joy of that era, when a much higher percentage of American families were somewhat healthy. Parents found a way to make marriages work, the term “latchkey kids” hadn’t been invented yet, most moms stayed at home and many families ate meals together (get this) once or twice a DAY! Those weren’t perfect families, but they became deeply connected because they lived “in community.”
In recent years, all this has changed. The press of work and the variety of “necessary” activities has pulled at the fabric of families until only bare threads are left in many cases. Young adults who have grown up in this era long for a place and a group of people with whom they can share life in healthy ways. They long for community.
This all became very personal to Cathy and me a few years ago. Our young adult friend, Logan, decided that he liked us and wanted to hang out at our house. A military officer and gradate of the Naval Academy, Logan is a very sharp young man. Cathy and I couldn’t figure out why he wanted to spend time with a couple of “old folks’ like us! Every few evenings, Logan would show up unannounced at our front door and ask if we were doing anything. Most times he came in, often spending hours with us.
At the time, Logan’s fiancé, Kenra, was off on a third-world, 11-month missions excursion. When she returned, they both spent hours at our house doing the most informal pre-marital counseling we have ever done. We talked and prayed and laughed and cried and ate and played games. Without Cathy and me knowing what was happening, we were “in community,” often mystified that they kept wanting to “hang out.”
After their marriage, Logan and Kenra began working with other young adults at Stone Ridge. Soon a large group of them were hanging out together, doing life and growing up in Christ. Some of these young adults are married and others are single. Some came from very healthy home backgrounds and some from very broken families. Together they are sharing the important things of life in a way that is closer to the house churches described in the New Testament than anything I have ever known.
Many years ago, someone described church as a place where people go to “be alone together.” I’m so glad for the way that mold is being broken at our place. After all, family matters! It always has, even in the days of Jesus. And it’s an essential part of the Christmas story. I can’t wait to share it with you this weekend at Stone Ridge Church. Already busy with your family? Then do some holiday baking and listen to the podcast together!