How Christian Community is Like the Elusive Yeti
I believe it's out there.
Living free in remote and wild places.
It may sound incredible to believe in it but reports of this mysterious creature abound with enough regularity to keep the story alive. Honestly, the stories have been circulating for so long (since ancient times) that it makes believing in this creature's existence at least somewhat plausible.
After all, I am sure you have heard something about it. I bet you even have a picture in your mind as to what it might look like.
But, have you ever seen it?
It seems so reclusive and notoriously shy.
Many of my friends believe in it. Yet, when I ask around, no one has really witnessed it.
Well, almost no one. I have a few odd friends who claim to have seen it before when they were sitting around the campfire telling stories. However, alcohol was involved. So, who really knows what to think, right?
I really want to believe it exists. Honestly, I am really desperate to believe it exists.
But honestly, I have kind of lost hope. The part of me that used to be so optimistic that I might one day find this elusive thing of dreams and legends has grown tired, weary, jaded even. I am beginning to have my doubts. The hope that I will ever find my quarry flickers precariously, like a dying flame on a candle nearly spent.
I wonder if I will ever actually witness this thing my heart so longs to see?
Oh, and I think it might be cool to see a Yeti as well.
It seems to me that “community” is somewhat like the Christian version of the yeti. It’s an elusive, mythic creature that many believe in yet few, if any, have actually seen.
Truly, our collective experience is somewhat less than the ideal communal experience of the Early Church, where “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had (Acts 4:32).”
Frankly, right now, after years of being a believer, I have serious doubts that the kind of Christian community I long for even exists. What once seemed so possible, inevitable even, now seems so fantastical, so mythical, so unreal.
After years of hoping, years of putting myself out there, trying to kindle the fires of community, it still seems so far off, so utterly unattainable.
I know that I am not alone in this frustration. Countless Christians have shared with me their own unmet desire to find a place of connection and comradery within the Church. Nearly every single person I have ever ministered to has told me of their own frustrating
experiences and their longing for real Christian community. All too often that hope deferred gives way to a sense of cynicism and a defeated resignation.
We all long for a spiritual family. After all, God made us for connection, and He said from the outset that it isn't good for any of us to be alone.
Yet, if everyone of us is longing for the same thing, then why have so few of us found it?
I want the kind of spiritual fellowship that gives me permission to be myself—fully myself; good, bad and ugly.
I want the kind of connection that gives me license to let down my guard and gives space to my quirky eccentricities (not that I have any, but let's imagine for the sake of argument that I might have a few, then theoretically it would be nice to let them out once in a while).
I want to have the kind of comradery with brothers in arms that gives me friends who I could call at 2 am if the need arose. Or, to have dozens of people to call on in when it comes time to move. I want a spiritual family that we can call on in the event of an emergency; to know that our kids would be in good hands if one of us had to go to the hospital.
Now I have glimpsed this kind of community before, but it wasn't within the Church. I have seen a real sense of fellowship and comradery in other contexts. I have witnessed a degree of this kind of kinship within 12 Step recovery groups, the military, and within a group of veteran fly-fisherman. But I haven't seen it (yet) with a group of believers.
Those other groups could foster a sense of inclusive fellowship and after-hours connection, that I really haven't seen before with a group of Christians.
I wonder why?
Certainly, we can all blame the hectic pace of life, or the proliferation of smart phones. Or maybe it's the season of life—after all, it's difficult to have a vibrant social life while raising young children.
Sometimes I have wondered if it was just me. Like maybe I am the one to blame; maybe I am just not good at relationships. Maybe I have terrible garlic breath (I do like garlic), or I commit some kind of social faux pas, and everybody knows it but is just too polite to tell me.
But, if that were it, it still wouldn't explain everybody else's frustration with Christian community.
Unless we are all a bit eccentric and off-center.
Maybe that is it. In those other fellowships I saw very little pressure to appear to be somebody else. In fact, they seemed to welcome odd, eccentric, outgoing and colorful characters. They seemed thrilled to have people with messy lives join.
I have never felt that kind of freedom to just be my uncensored self in church.
Why is that? Why can't we just be ourselves in church?
Our faith is founded on the verbal confession that we are messed up and need Jesus to save us from ourselves.
So why do we hide it? Why so much pressure to behave, or to appear more put together than we are?
Maybe there is something wrong with the way that we do Church.
I don't like to point out a problem unless I can offer some kind of solution. But, in this case, I don't have an answer. At least not yet.
But, as this new year begins, I want to dedicate myself to a search to find the elusive thing that my heart hopes for.
I want to find the kind of Christian fellowship, friends and family, that I long for. And I want you to join me in this search.
If you have found the kind of community and fellowship that we are talking about, then I urge you to do all that you can to nurture and care for it. Keep it going and do all that you can to help it continue to thrive.
As for the rest of us, the ones who are still yearning, let's not give up hope. Let's pool our collective insight. Maybe we can rethink what a true spiritual family looks like.
Maybe we can find the thing we were made for.
I want to believe that we can.
I believe it's out there.
I do believe... Lord, help my unbelief.