Last night at imagine's inward/Outward Missional Formation Cohort, we began a conversation around what it means to experience communitas together. According to Alan Hirsch in The Forgotten Ways:
"...communitas describe[s] the dynamic of the Christian community inspired to overcome their instincts to huddle...and instead to form themselves around a common mission that calls them into a dangerous journey to unknown places--a mission that calls the church to shake off its collective securities and to plunge into the world of action where its members experience disorientation and marginalization, but also where they encounter God and one another in a new way."
Michael Frost in Exiles writes:
"Communitas...is a community infused with a grand sense of purpose, one that lies outside its internal reality and constitution. It's the kind of community that "happens" to people in actual pursuit of a common vision of what could be. It involves movement and it describes the experience of togetherness that only really happens among a group of people actually engaging in a mission outside itself."
Our discussion moved around what people experience in trying to be missional and helping others open to Christ. It was a good beginning. After everyone had left and I was reflecting on our conversation, the thought struck me that church for most people does not expose them to the depth and richness of communal experience formed around the challenging adventure of Kingdom mission, and how it forges a deep, shared identity, especially when the going is tough.
Many Christians have experienced small group fellowship where the support and relational interplay were rewarding and meaningful, but not particularly embodying a "grand sense of purpose." Some have been involved in invigorating church-related projects. Others have been on Mission's trips that were profound, and opened them to the possibility of radical discipleship. But, for most, most of the time, church became rather quickly predictable, and routine, not the "pursuit of a common vision of what could be.". I've known very few Christians who's following of Jesus often involved, "a common mission that calls then into a dangerous journey to unknown places," or where they were "plunge[d] into the world of action where its members experience
disorientation and marginalization, but also where they encounter God
and one another in a new way."
Sadly, Church can end up being a heart-deadening institutional, programmatic obligation with little expectation of adventure or a vision worth dying for. If you don't believe me ask the Christian men you know how much Church inspires them to repeatedly follow Christ into the mess of people's lives or the pain of the world. Or, people settle for a satisfying experience far less than God invites them to join him in because they have an ample supply spiritual goods and services which keep them occupied: the worship is great, the preaching is edifying, the kids have a great children's ministry; there is all kinds of opportunity for Bible study, volunteering and fellowship. Church life is good.
Because communitas has been so little experienced, I think it feels utterly foreign to people, even unrealistic. I get a sense that most of us have little to relate to in the term because church we've lived has not been communitas. It also became very clear that "normal" life was hard enough, and people needed seasons of healing before they could even consider a more adventurous Christian way. That's not to be overlooked...a wounded heart needs ample time to heal and restore. But when it does, will the church inspire people to anything more than easy-does-it, American Christendom, and with a little sin management thrown in?
Where's the opportunity to live an heroic life together; one reflecting the unparalleled greatness and beauty of the Messiah we say we follow and serve. Where's the ennobling task which elevates the heart beyond safety and security? Who's offering the sustained opportunity to really live and die in the rigorous service of the Gospel and the Kingdom reign of God? Where's the compelling STORY which ignites passion and a do-whatever-it-takes communal ethos?
I have to say I long for, and have longed for since I was a teenager, this kind of authentic, give-it-all-you-got for-a-cause-which-elevates-the-human-spirit-and-reflects-the-heart-of-God focus. I also have to say I've only experienced glimmers of it, but I've truly tasted it, and want much more before my last breath.
I believe imagine/Northampton has the best shot God has offered me to realize Kingdom communitas around the most important mission in the universe: helping people discover and follow the God who is more than they imagine.The imagine/Northampton people I serve with are growing hearts for this Kingdom mission. They are serious about following Jesus this way.
I love that! It inspires me. As long as I have a say in it, we're gonna keep heading in this direction.
What about you?