There’s an old saying in Christian circles to describe the ridiculous nature of the approach some Christians have to interaction with the “outside world” – it talks of “Christians who only drink milk from a Christian cow”.
Of course, we all laugh and sneer at such a ridiculous idea. Until we realise that our lives are on the slippery slope to that very destination. Sure, we may never get there, but we’re still at risk of heading way too far in that direction.
Much is made in the circles in which I operate of “Christian Community”. This more often than not refers not to a geographical area or a parish church; but a large house which is rented out to a significant number of people (usually about 10 or more). The problem with “Living in Community” is that it begins to detract from living in the real world.
Let’s go to the extreme end of the spectrum: Megachurches in the United States of America have entire campuses. Last time I checked, a campus was something universities did. These churches have coffee shops and gyms; so that you never need interact with another non-Christian again! Wonderful!
Now, obviously, this doesn’t compare with simply living in a large shared living environment under one roof. But what it does mean is that it’s much, much easier to have a night in than to go to the local pub, bar, cafe or event. It’s easier to “invite people in” to your house.
“Invite people in”. That sounds familiar. Ah, yes… attractional church. The idea that we should “bring people to us” so that we can show them just how amazing and wonderful God is. In our darkened sheds and smoke machine filled stages we can jazz up the gospel and sell it on as a product to those who need to hear it the most.
We can’t continue to expect people to come to us. And we’re creating more and more bubbles around ourselves. Not content with keeping our faith at arms length from the rest of the world by holding all sorts of convoluted meetings and gatherings with frankly weird music, talks and artistic movies; we move into the realm of the local neighbourhood, creating Christian shops so that we can have Christian cake and Christian coffee and do our washing in the Christian laundrette and buy our clothes in the Christian charity shop.
We don’t need to interact with the outside any near as much world any more.
Let me stress at this point that I think there is nothing wrong with any of these enterprises. I think they are fantastic. The problem is that they are so heavily frequented by Christians! There are plenty of places that we can go and be sent to, without gravitating towards the comfortable, the simple, and the easy.
So back to community. Whatever happened to street parties, to knowing our neighbours, to talking over the fence, to evenings gathered at the table? Surely as Christians in search of better relationship with those around us, we should seek to find ways to interact with those outside of our community rather than continue to create fresh avenues for ourselves to keep to ourselves within it?
Sure, there are many positives to the Community house approach: not least the ability to support, disciple and encourage one another. But are we really so reliant upon these things which keep us afloat being under the same roof? Whatever happened to the idea of living in some houses within walking distance of each other and whilst travelling between them interacting with those around us and creating fresh, new relationships with those who need to know the good news that Jesus came to restore our lives?! It’s really simple to come across other people. We just love finding excuses not to.
When community becomes an end in itself, it stagnates the person, the faith and the mission. When community is formed around the common goal to share the love of God with everyone – when the purpose is external to ourselves – then we find community just happens. Then we won’t need to force it. We can live in the community and drink our normal milk from our normal cow. Then the world won’t look at us and think “weird”. They’ll look at us and think “wow”.