Not all communities of Christians are alike. Some churches are vibrant, open, and caring; some churches are downright grumpy as if they were all baptized in pickle juice. Churches are at different places with each other because to be a genuine God-honoring community takes much work – community cannot be cheaply gained or maintained.
M. Scott Peck was a psychiatrist and the author of one of the most read books of the 20th century, The Road Less Traveled. He wrote many other books, including the lesser known, but just as significant work, The Different Drum, where he argues that we all must march to the beat of a different drum when it comes to community. He observed and described 4 stages a community must move through in order to become a true authentic loving group of people:
1. Pseudo-community. This is a community where people are polite, nice, friendly, and well-behaved, but say very little about themselves because they are guarded with each other. They speak in generalities and platitudes. “How’s it going?” “It’s going fine.” Community at this stage, if the people have been together for a long time, is a mile wide and an inch deep.
2. Chaos. Peck labels this stage chaos because it is here that every group of people must experience the out of control feeling (chaos) of doing conflict together. This stage is doing the irritating work of accountability, and loving each other enough to confront and not let each other stay in the first superficial stage.
3. Emptiness. Peck means here the act of self-emptying love. In this stage we let go of our ego, and put down our personal demands, so that we can respond to others’ needs. This is a stage of genuine listening to each other and responding in grace and love, instead of just making dogmatic statements toward each other. This is where we hear one another’s stories, and extend forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration. We seek to bridge our differences with integrity, kindness, and concern for the other.
4. True community. Everyone belongs to each other, and we all belong to Jesus. We give to each other the encouragement that is needed no matter what. This is a stage of deep honesty, and deep caring. Sin in the Bible is not so much breaking the rules; sin is giving up on Jesus and/or giving up on his church. Apathy and lethargy are the twin demons that destroy Christ’s Church.
What I am stating is neither easy nor popular. There is more pain in community than outside of it. But there is also more joy. And there cannot be life apart from the church. The perspective of the Christian Scriptures is that we must act Today, because there may not be a tomorrow. Grace and forgiveness are to be the rule of Christian community, because this emulates the behavior of our Savior, the Lord Jesus. That cannot happen apart from true community and the work it takes to become one. So, it is high time to get another perspective on community, a face to face one with real people, rather than a view of the back of people’s heads. It takes much personal courage to gain community. Are you willing to do it?