What is the greatest hindrance to cultivating community in the American church?
The first thing that comes to mind is frenetic western-culture busyness.
I read a book on stress a few years back, and the author made a side comment that I thought was so insightful. He said that the highest value of materialistic western culture is not possessing. It’s actually acquiring.
If you’re a go-getter you never stop. And so the guy who is lavishly successful doesn’t quit, because there are greater levels of success. “My house could be bigger, I could drive better cars, I could have more power, I could have more money.”
And so we’ve bought an unbiblical definition of the good life of success. Our kids have to be skilled at three sports and play four musical instruments, and our house has to be lavish by whatever standard. And all of that stuff is eating time, eating energy, eating money. And it doesn’t promote community.
I think often that even the programs of a local church are too sectored and too busy. As if we’re trying to program godliness. And so the family is actually never together because they’re all in demographic groupings. Where do we have time where we are pursuing relationships with one another, living with one another, praying with one another, talking with one another?
I’ve talked to a lot of families who literally think it’s a victory to have 3 or 4 meals all together with one another in a week, because they’re so busy. Well, if in that family unit they’re not experiencing community, there’s no hope of them experiencing it outside of that family unit.
We have families that will show up at our church on Sunday morning with the boys dressed in their little league outfits, and I know what’s going to happen. They’re going to leave the service early. Now what a value message to that little boy! Do I think little league is bad? I don’t think it’s bad at all. I think it’s great. But they’re telling him what’s important as they do that.
You can’t fit God’s dream (if I can use that language) for his church inside of the American dream and have it work. It’s a radically different lifestyle. It just won’t squeeze into the available spaces of the time and energy that’s left over.
And I’m as much seduced by that as anybody. We have sold our four-bedroom house because our kids are gone, and we’ve bought a loft in Chinatown, Philadelphia. And we’re amazed at how simple our life has become. We’re grieving over how we let our life get so complicated.
Last year, for example, I put almost $2,500 worth of gas in my car. This year, I’ve put $159 in the first quarter. It’s because we’re walking places, and that slows our life down, and we’re near the people in our church because we’re within walking distance of the church. And we’ve had so many natural encounters with people because of that.
We’re living in a much smaller place. We got rid of most of our stuff. As we went through it, we laughed about how we just collected stuff. All that stuff has to be maintained. It grabs your heart, it grabs your schedule, it grabs your time. It becomes a source of worry and concern and need to pay.
So we’ve just been confronted with how all of those things that aren’t evil in themselves become the complications of life that keep us away from the kind of community that we need in order to hold on to our identity.