Community. It's in the name of the church I lead, we aspire to be a community church. It's one of our values, we want to build a genuine community of believers that has influence and impact on the wider geographical community. But what is a community and why do we want one so much?
Perhaps more importantly, why is there a sense that community is often missing from modern life? Plenty of observers have noted how increasingly mobile people have become as education, work and relationships pushes and pulls them around the country. Less people live in the town where they grew up than ever before and people are constantly moving. Add that to the fact that people are often eager to improve the quality of their dwelling that increases our mobility. Each year a few doors from where you live a stranger will move in, if you don't say hello sooner or later you'll know no-one who lives near you.
Add that to an increasing mobility in the workplace and the almost total erosion of job security that means many people work in a place they care nothing about with people they care nothing about and you're adding a potent ingredient into a recipe of isolation.
Lastly, there is the ascendancy of the TV. We are now fully entertained in the comfort of our own homes. When we come home tired from work we care little about and we don't know our neighbours or care for our colleagues what incentive is there to leave the safety and security that is your new sofa? And while you're being amused to death with mindless soaps and informed about places you'll never see, you're also being scared and frightened about 'them'. The world is full of evil people - child abusers, kidnappers, identity thieves, drunken louts on the weekend and gangs of teenagers for the weekdays - added to your drug addicts, dealers, and usual mix of car thieves and burglars. The world is also full of unseen dangers - germs on everything, diseases to be scared of and as we're no longer in contact with our spiritual sides - what is more frightening than death? So insure it, sterilise it, protect it and stay away from everyone else. Don't let your children play outside.
But the problem goes deeper than statistics and demographics it goes to the heart. We've bought into a dream that has 'me' as the hero. I'm the centre of the story and everyone else is an 'extra', if the hero isn't happy - he can change the sidekick, dump the gang, find a new country, move to a new town, buy a new look and get some new gadgets. Everything is up for grabs as long as the hero is happy. Hmm. No place for loyalty, faithfulness, integrity, contentment, commitment in this story.
Consumerism has a lover called individualism and together they spin a web of lies that pulls us away not towards other people. Community is part of the antidote of kingdom. As we become part of a kingdom that seeks to bring reconciliation to the WHOLE world, we are pulled towards people, called to meet them, get to know them, love them, fight with them and make up again with them. Called to spend time with them and share our lives with them. As we do that we open ourselves up to correction, encouragement, generosity, compassion and true friendship. We can live differently and live deeply.
Community is without question the hardest thing I've ever tried to do - building a church is easier, getting my quiet times in order is easier, breaking stubborn habits is nothing but building genuine community has been genuinely difficult. This makes me think it's spiritual warfare but also that it means the treasure that comes when you get glimpses of it - as unexpected gifts are given, when people pull round to offer unconditional and extravagant love is beyond comparison. The kingdom is not a collection of individuals but a community of people. Be a part of it.