“The Christian cannot simply take for granted the privilege of living among other Christians.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together
One of the sad realities of American Christianity is how quickly and easily it is for individuals to change churches. Often, if someone gets angry about a decision or a style of worship, or a sermon that was preached, or even something as menial as what color the walls were painted the easiest thing to do is to leave and find another body of believers to worship with. Instead of addressing the conflict, or expressing emotions, or even realizing that everything does not have to make you happy, one finds themselves simply leaving and finding another church. There are probably many causes behind this phenomenon. Part of the problem is our instant gratification culture that believes everything should please us now. Part of the problem is that there are too many options available; we’ve learned to shop for cars and houses and insurance, why not church? Part of the problem is that as a society we are not very adept at dealing with conflict. However, at the root of the issue is that many in the American church have lost the importance of community and what it means to be family.
A good friend and former professor once told me that it is too easy to leave church. He was referencing the problem of church shopping, when with a church on every street corner it becomes easy to simply go down the street to find what one is looking for or to avoid a problem or confrontation. But if church really is family then should it be so easy to simply abandon one’s family and move in with someone else? Shouldn’t Christian community mean enough to us that we are willing to put in the effort to work through our differences? Marriages that struggle through difficult times often find themselves stronger once the struggle is over because they’ve grown as a couple together through the difficulty. Couldn’t the same be true for church families? Struggling together through difficult times can make a community stronger. It’s not always pleasant, but community is worth it.
Maybe part of the reason that it has become so easy to switch churches is that many have never really experienced community. They don’t know the joy of living life together, of sharing each others burdens, of walking through life not only as associates, but as family. This could be because a particular congregation has not fostered community like they should. However, it is often because individuals haven’t taken the time and energy to invest themselves into the community, to develop the friendships and relationships that make community meaningful. They’ve simply taken for granted the privilege of living with other Christians, of being able to go to an assembly and be around other Christians, as if simply going to church together creates community.
Christian community is more than just going to church together or being apart of the same ministry. Christian community is sharing life together. It’s going to the hospital at 3:00 a.m. because a friend is in need. It’s rejoicing together at the birth of a child and crying together at the death of a parent. It’s sharing meals with each other in your homes, going to birthday parties, or sipping coffee together at the local coffee shop. Christian community is being real with someone, getting past the surface to share hopes and fears so that another person can help you carry your burdens. Christian community takes effort, it takes time, but it is so worth it. I know this is true because I would not have survived even to this point in my life without real community. We should never take it for granted.
There are obviously times when community has to be broken, when it becomes necessary to change church fellowships or to even leave a church family you’ve been apart of for years and move on. However, this leaving should always be a last resort and after much prayer and thought. Christian community is too important to leave flippantly. It is a privilege to share life together. Put in the effort to make it meaningful.
This post is dedicated to my close community of friends, thank you for sharing life with me.