Sunday, July 12, 2009

Fake Community

Last week, I didn't put anything up on this blog because I was on vacation over the 4th of July holiday in Kentucky. But this week, we're continuing our examination of The Easy Threesy, looking at Fake Community.

I believe that one of the most serious problems of the American church is that we pursue shallow, insignificant, insincere relationships with one another. We may not immediately see this as a spiritual issue that has any impact or reflection on our relationship with God, our ability to serve him effectively, or the power of our witness to the world, but that is preceisely the case.

Our Core Value of Real Community is all about having real, authentic, vital relationships with one another within our church body. For our relationships to meet the criteria of Real Community, we need to practice several essential habits:

  • Giving preference to the needs of others, rather than our own comfort;
  • Utilizing our gifts, abilities, and talents to serve others and build them up, instead of serving ourselves and feeding our own egos;
  • Recognizing the value of each member's uniqueness, and how both our strengths and our weaknesses can bring glory to God because of our connection with one another.

For any of these habits to become anchored in our lives, it requires difficult conversations, truthful self-revelation, accountability, deep respect and love for one another, and honest dialogue. That's exactly what Fake Community simply will not tolerate. Fake Community:

  • Places a high premium on easy relationships; it steers far clear of any relationships or conversations that could become difficult, uncomfortable, or potentially awkward.
  • Sees ministry as a platform for exalting oneself--whether in one's own eyes or others' eyes. Our ministry--not our identity in Christ--becomes the proof of our value and worth;
  • Gives lip service to loving other people, but grumbles and complains behind their backs about all the ways that they are irksome, irritating, and obnoxious. Fake Community is a fault-finding community, not a grace-giving community.

It really comes down to this: Do we exist for others, or do they exist for us? That's a very important question that gets down to the essence of our approach to all our relationships. On the night of his betrayal, after celebrating the first communion meal with his disciples, Jesus got down on his knees and washed each of his disciples' feet. As he did so, he asked them, "Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them." The text tells us that the reason he did this was to show them "the full extent of his love." (Jn. 13:1-17).

You see, Jesus lived a life that was all about service, and nothing about self. He came to serve, not to be served--even though he was worthy not only of service, but honor, power, glory, worship, devotion, obedience, reverence, and much more. But he didn't claim his right to these things. He humbled himself and took on the nature of a servant--to show us the full extent of his love.

A Real Community of Christ-followers--a group of people who actually seek to imitate Jesus in their lives--will nurture in themselves this same attitude that was in him (see Php. 2:1-11). Here's what happens if Real Community has been supplanted by Fake Community:

  • Grudges, grumbling, and gossip spread like a virus, squeezing out room for forgiveness;
  • Relationships are weak, so that they aren't able to stand up under difficult conversations. Either those conversations never happen, or they lead to a rift or separation;
  • Error, sin, and wrong attitudes are excused ("Oh, that's just Sally"), ignored, and not addressed so that relationships stay shallow and insincere;
  • When someone admits a failure or shortcoming, it creates awkwardness and discomfort in others because they expect everyone to keep up appearances. For someone to remove their mask and refuse to play the "image game" might mean that others will also be expected to reveal their own failures. The loss of a good image is the ultimate fear of Fake Community;
  • There is no sense of one's place in the body of Christ. Each member is a lone ranger--no authority, no accountability, no external expectations or standards. If such elements were introduced, they would elicit cries of "legalism!" and "authoritarianism!"

And the outcome is that we do not really know anyone, and no one knows us. We are lonely, isolated, and scared--when the family of God is meant to provide love, compassion, and care. Further, we have nothing interesting or compelling to offer a world that needs to see what love in action looks like because they're too jaded and cynical to believe that it really exists. Jesus said, "All men will know that you are my disciples by the love you have for one another" (Jn. 13:35). Fake Community ensures that they will not know--it emasculates our ability to tell others about Jesus. How can you tell if you have a problem with Fake Community?

  • When someone hurts you or slights you, do you say anything to them about it?
  • Are you eager to understand others' point of view? Do you ask questions before jumping to conclusions?
  • Are you patient with the weaknesses and failings of others?
  • Are you eager to serve and to give to those who have needs?
  • Do you take the initiative to connect with others so that they don't have to?
  • Do you serve without expectation of reward, recognition, or appreciation?
  • Are you grateful for who God has made you to be, with all your abilities and talents, to serve him and others in the body of Christ?

"No" answers indicate a tendency toward Fake Community. We can go through the motions, be in a small group, serve on a ministry team, and shake hands in the lobby--but if we keep people at arm's length about who we really are on the inside, we will never "get" what the church of Jesus Christ is all about. We will miss out on all that God has for us, and we will undermine the very mission of the church, the whole reason the church exists.

It's hard to belong to a Real Community. It takes effort and diligence. It requires honesty and vulnerability. Sometimes we'll get hurt. Sometimes we'll want to hide. But the payoff is so great. When we are connected with people who truly know us--the real us--and still love us, warts and all, we become empowered to live a life that is rich and free. It is so liberating to remove our masks and stand boldly and confidently with each other as beloved children of God!

Easy relationships are fake relationships. That's why Fake Community is one of The Easy Threesy. And fake is boring, it's pointless, and it's unattractive. I'm not really sure why anyone would want to waste their time with it, and yet we do. It's so much more enjoyable to get to know a real person instead of the mask they wear. It's so much more purposeful to talk about the real issues of life instead of the trivia. And it's so much more compelling to invite others to experience a depth of love they never realized was possible instead of another circle of shallow relationships they don't need.

Why not venture out into Real Community? Let's start being real with one another. Let's really give and receive the kind of love that Christ has poured out on us.

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