What Christian community is and should look like has been the subject of countless blogs, books, small group discussions and sermons. As a member of a fellowship living in intentional Christian community, I have often found the input from the wider conversation on community beneficial for the growth and development of our group.
One book that I have found to be particularly helpful is Larry Crabb’s The Safest Place on Earth. In his book, Larry presents a vision of the church as a safe community wherein we are able to own our brokenness. In doing so, we will provide the safety others need to own their brokenness also. If this is not our experience he observes, “Community will be a competitive, demanding place where we feel the pressure to demonstrate that God has done more work in our lives than He has.” He goes on to say that also, “We might put a pseudo-brokenness on display and seize every opportunity to reveal our emotional struggles, demanding,…that others see our pain and take care of us (pg.37).” Larry concludes that if we are not able to own our brokenness, we become a community that is unable to reflect the giving life of the Trinity because we are too caught up with either hiding or parading our problems. This is one key difference between what he calls spiritual community and unspiritual community.
When I have attempted to hide or parade my problems, my relationships became either distant or strained. The pressure to be perfect, or the demand that others feel my pain and comfort me, carry the seeds of destruction for any mutual relationship. On the other hand, embracing my humanity (brokenness) has proved to be the springboard to authenticity and intimacy in my relationships. Living in the light of who I really am before God and my fellow man is the ground from which trust, and mutual sharing thrives.
Larry makes a second important distinction between spiritual and unspiritual community, and that is in the way conflict is handled. More on that in another post.