Christians and true community  

Posted by Denis Haack in , , ,

Today I received an email, as I do each day, from John Stott Ministries that consists of a brief excerpt from the writings of Rev. Stott. This one was under the title, “Reforming the church,” and came from Authentic Christianity, originally published in 1995.

Young people hunger for the authentic relationships of love. Hobart Mowrer, emeritus professor of psychiatry in the University of Illinois and well-known critic of Freud, though by his own profession neither a Christian nor a theist, once described himself as having “a lover's quarrel with the church.” Asked what he meant by this, he replied that the church had failed him when he was a teenager and continued to fail his patients today. How? “Because the church has never learned the secret of community,” he said. Unfair perhaps, because some churches are genuine communities. But it was his opinion, which was born no doubt of bitter experience. I think it is the most damaging criticism of the church I have ever heard.

It seems to me that people still yearn for authentic community, for loving relationships in which they can flourish as persons and feel safe enough that they can authentically explore their doubts and questions within their pilgrimage of faith. And that brings me to some questions I would love to have the readers of this blog comment on:

Is the church in America making progress in developing authentic community? Is it increasingly becoming a safe place in which people can flourish?

If yes, what evidence do you have?

If not, what is holding her back?

This entry was posted at Thursday, March 29, 2012 and is filed under , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


Is suburbia one of the chief obstacles between us and true community?
The American Dream has morphed into an odd form of isolationism: we want a big house, surrounded by a big fence, and filled with all the things we think we need to survive and be happy. Is it any wonder that the more successful we become, the lonelier we are?
Read The Great Divorce. Lewis describes hell in very much the same terms we use to describe success.

March 29, 2012 at 5:12 PM

It's a hard question to answer when you're talking about the church nationally. The nature of our relationship with the institution is that if it's good, it tends to bleed into the ordinary fabric of our day-to-day life and become assumed as normal. If it's bad, it stands out.

I think what you can say is that there are certain groups that the American church usually struggles to connect with: On the one hand, the cultural elite, such as artists, professors, writers, etc. They're not necessarily the wealthiest people, but they tend to have more social capital. And we tend to miss them. But the other group we tend to miss is the blue collar/lower class crowd. In Coming Apart Murray actually argues that college-educated whites are more likely to be religions than non-college educated whites. Given the whole reach-the-cities/we suck at reaching the elites narrative implicit in groups like Acts 29, the Keller wing of the PCA, and Hunter's book, that seems counterintuitive. But the more I think about my own experience, the more I suspect that Murray is right.

March 29, 2012 at 6:33 PM

I resonate with Greg's point about suburbia. Geographic distance is a significant barrier to forming community. Another challenge are competing communities [church, school]. The best church communities I have been involved with were time-consuming with multiple meetings and gatherings during the week, or geographically close, where I saw people outside of church.

April 1, 2012 at 2:54 AM

Geography is, indeed, part of the issue. We are slow to notice that where we live shapes who we are, except on vacation if we happen to visit a cathedral. Lewis would agree with Walker Percy who spoke of those who were a success that failed at life.
Appreciate your comments,

April 4, 2012 at 8:48 AM

I just returned from a trip to Memphis, where my hosts mentioned that the church there tends to be segregated racially, even though some church plants were established specifically to address that issue. I sometimes wonder if our individualism holds us back, so that at root, the church is only as much community as we tend to gravitate towards personally, which is limited.

April 4, 2012 at 8:52 AM

Geography and time--these do seem to be at root of so much, doesn't it?

April 4, 2012 at 8:53 AM

Can the church be both? I think some communities are developing in rich ways, while others continue to alienate "outsiders".
I do think there is an interesting dichotomy, that I am completely observing, and have no facts to back up. It seems like authentic communities are becoming richer, while mega-"communities" are becoming more prolific. More people want to drink the punch than want to invest in other people. But those who do choose to invest seem to be creating tighter communities.
The nuclear family model is both an asset and a detractor from community, depending on people's social mores.
All the above comments ring true to me as well. I appreciate reading them.

April 4, 2012 at 12:22 PM

Good point, and one we should probably keep in mind whenever this topic is being discussed. The church can be both, and usually is.
You raise another interesting subject when you mention the family, and while most would find your assertion that it sometimes detracts from community, I agree. It really is a very modern invention, fueled by the industrial revolution and individualism. So many families I know I so centered on their immediate family that for them the world ceases to exist.
Thanks for joining the conversation.

April 4, 2012 at 1:05 PM

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