Me for the Community & the Community for the World
I’ve been flicking through Alan Hirsch’s excellent book: “The Forgotten Ways” again this week. Its a great resource, well worth a read, or re-read. One of his best insights is the idea of communitas; the close-knit community that forms out of a shared hardship as you go after a common vision. Is that a familiar concept? If not go read the book – especially chapter 8, it’s excellent.
Anyway, Hirsch argues that the idea of communitas is everywhere, people really want it. It comes to the surface at times of national or local crisis and it features in so many of our films and stories because we are hungry for it.
My wife Helen and I were watching “Avengers Assemble” last week (we’re at the stage of life where we watch most our films on DVD a year late) and it’s there too. A bunch of Super-Heroes, incredibly powerful yet deeply flawed, are called together to battle a power that is seemingly greater than them. As they work out how to face it together they become more than themselves. In fact if you stay with the film until after the credits there is a great little clip of communitas-like eating together. Its brilliant!
A key feature of communitas is that its members think like this: “Me for the community and the community for the world”. Stop and consider that for a moment…
Me for the Community: So many of us approach our relationships with the baggage of consumerism. We basically use people and consume from community. We take compliments, use resources, absorb and relish the warm cosy feeling we get from other people. We do this because we believe that the communities we are part of exist for us.
This means that when mission-shaped community gets a bit demanding we get uncomfortable. Perhaps it doesn’t fit comfortably or conveniently in our life. Maybe it is full of annoying people who don’t “get us”. Perhaps for the community to grow we need to make ourselves vulnerable, or we need to give up some rest time to go out on mission. When our community begins to impose on us we get very shifty, we may even try to leave. We do this because we think the community exists for us, but it doesn’t. One of the key things about making a missional community work is that we need to give of ourselves. We need to learn how to put the well-being of the group before our own desires for comfort and convenience (as I write this I realise it sounds very like Paul’s advice in Philippians 2: 1 – 4)
The Community for the World: With time we start to get the idea that we are people called by God to make a difference in His world. To see our neighbourhoods, workplaces and friends transformed, unfortunately here too we have some heavy baggage: individualism. We imagine that this hoped-for transformation is our own mission. We may not see ourselves as heroes like Hulk or Iron Man, but we take on hero-sized individual quests, and so demand that our community releases us to go after these things. I’m afraid this approach is crazy, we are not going to be anyway near as effective on our own as we are with others. That’s why we encourage each community to have a shared vision, a bit of the world that they are together changing. That’s also why we share people of peace and work out together how to reach them, because we will do things better if we do them with others. The secret of communitas is that this kind of community, where all give themselves to some bigger cause, is exactly the place where we really come alive.
This is what Jesus did: he took a small group of people, gave them a big vision (fish for people, make disciples of all nations, teach everything I’ve taught you) then he sent them off to go through ordeals, and to successfully transform the known world.
Missional Community is supposed be communitas, that means that as leaders we need to be sharing and running after an audacious vision. It also means we need to be modelling and inviting others into a way of life that is not focused on what you can get from others, but thinks “Me for the community and the community for the world.”
Ben Askew lives in Harrogate, North Yorkshire where he has just moved to take up the post of Pioneer Curate at Kairos Church. He is married to Helen and has two children.