I grew up in a small town. Railroad tracks sliced through the middle of town and freight trains would rattle the windows of our house several times each day.
I remember in the fifth grade racing a train to a crossing on my bike. I flew across the tracks barely making it in front of the train, the engineer glaring and blasting the horn at me as he sped by. I was feeling pretty cool until I stopped my bike and looked up to see my Aunt Lizabelle standing on her porch with arms crossed and a furious look. She snapped “Don’t you ever let me catch you doing something like that again. You could have slipped and been cut in two. I oughta tell your momma!”
I turned a shade of crimson and felt ashamed at how reckless my stunt was. I never did it again. I knew that Aunt Lizabelle loved me; my parents had helped them years before in a tough time when our river town flooded. I learned a simple lesson: it’s a little harder to do stupid things when you’re in a community.
Community is more than warm, fuzzy feelings. It’s more than harmony. There is, and should be, an emotional and spiritual safety in it. The church-word for it is accountability, but that sounds stiff and cold. I have no interest in sitting across a lunch table from someone who asks me weekly, “What have you messed up this week?” Sometimes that’s how we reduce accountability.
I have a friend who prefers the word attention to accountability. It’s paying attention to each other’s needs and gifts. Accountability is not the goal—being known is. By its simplest definition, accountability is merely an openness to change.
It’s interesting what is implied in Jesus’ parable about the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep to find the lost one. It’s not just that it was lost from the shepherd, but away and alone from the flock. The prodigal son was not just estranged from the father, but the father’s household. Or the people who turned down dinner invitations didn’t want to be a part of the master’s party. The kingdom of God is often referenced by our connection with others.
Paul wrote simply that “none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone”. Allowing our hearts to intersect with God means that not only are we never alone, but we now become a part of his community; people for which he has chosen to give his son’s life. My actions and thoughts have ripples that wash over the souls of others. If I remain still and alone, thinking I simply don’t want to get involved in the lives of others, I find myself by my absence ignoring the people God deems precious. And without ripples, without movement, I stagnate.
We will never be all God has intended without connection.
And so my question is: how are you as a leader building true community? It must be intentional work. And I would suspect it’s the most important thing we do next to bringing those on the outside into the Beloved Community so they might experience a real family.
Dave Workman | The Elemental Group
The Elemental Churches Inventory guides your leadership team through a multi-faceted review of strengths and opportunities in four vital elements of your church’s life: Integrity (systems, processes, infrastructure), Passion (commitment to the mission), Servanthood (outward-focus), and Imagination (innovation, openness to change). And because of its unique web-based and curriculum approach, it’s a third of the cost of typical consulting!