Living in Community
During the Great Depression, Will Rogers quipped, “This is the first nation in history that has gone to the poorhouse in an automobile.” You see, up until the Depression, Americans lived in community. But the automobile put an end to that.
My favorite translation of the Greek word ekklesia is not “church.” Nor is it “congregation” or “assembly,” and it most certainly is not “called out ones.” I think the best rendering of this term is “community.” In the first century one could use it to refer to any type of community – a civic community, a religious community, and even a Christian community.
I recall driving through West Germany for the first time. (This was back when there was a West Germany.) We came to the hamlet of Lörach, and just on the outskirts of town was a sign that read Gemeinde Lörach, i.e., the “community of Lörach.” But just inside the town one could attend (as I did) die Baptisten Gemeinde Lörach, that is, the Baptist Church of Lörach. It seems to me that we can think of the New Testament churches in much the same manner:
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the community of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…. (1 Thess. 1:1).
Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, to the community of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours…. (1 Cor. 1:1-2).
Now, one of the reasons I so detest statism is its propensity to encroach upon local communities. Roland Watson puts it this way:
[T]ake away the tribe or nation-state and the community is at the mercy of other tribes and nation-states.
Take away the community and the family is at the mercy of foreign communities and tribes/nations.
Take away the family and the individual himself is threatened and neglected by foreign families and beyond.
Take away the individual and the destruction of society is complete.
In short, Watson argued that the state is at war with other communities that vie for man’s allegiance – the family, church, and so on. The state wants to destroy all communitarian opposition so that it can remake man into a pliable agent for state purposes.
Think of the Great Society programs of the 1960s. These programs were designed to eliminate poverty, revive neighborhoods, and lift up the downtrodden – those who seemingly were left at the periphery of society. Today we realize what a huge mistake the Great Society was. (Well, not everyone realizes this, but some of us do.) The Welfare State did nothing but perpetuate poverty, destroy neighborhoods, and create an underclass of unemployables. It dehumanized us and anesthetized us to our sense of self-responsibility. So much for social engineering.
But I want you to see that this problem is not limited to secular society. Our churches also suffer from the stultifying effects of centralization. The pastoral ministry, for example, has become largely professionalized, to the extent that pastors are parachuted into communities in which they have no interest whatsoever in sinking down any roots. The pastors know it, and the parishioners know it. It’s almost laughable to watch rural churches “hire” their latest pastor, knowing full well that he will stick around, on average, no longer than two years before moving on to greener pastures. I hear the same thing is true of city pastors, too.
I have begun counseling pastors and pastors-in-the-making to move to a location of their choice and to settle there. I encourage them to get to know their communities. Each community has a set of shared, core values. The members of that community (whether they were born there or later drawn into it) are taught that community’s values and cherish them as the basis of their sense of identity and belief. For a stranger to challenge or threaten these values is something that no community can reasonably accept or stand for. And to undermine these values is to undermine the foundation of that society.
When you have settled into a community, then it is time to begin to ask the Lord to show you how you can best serve Him. People will know you are in it for the long haul, and they will love and respect you for it. Last year my son attended a celebration for a pastor who was being honored for his fiftieth year of ministry in one church. What made him last so long? The church was in his community, and his community was his home.
Whether we like it or not, life is insecure. But it is far less so when you are a part of living, caring community. For 27 years I lived in the same city in Southern California, but I never really knew my neighbors. I now live in Timbuktu, USA, in the midst of a struggling, overly regulated, aging farming population. But for the first time in my life I feel like I am living in a community. Not a virtual community. Not a theoretical community. A real community.
Henrik Ibsen once said, “A community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm.” Are you ready to assume the responsibilities that come with living in a genuine community? If so, here’s the rudder.
February 14, 2005
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com. If you would like to know more about becoming a follower of King Jesus, please feel free to write Dave.