The word community carries with it a significant depth that I am not sure people within the church world quite understand. It is a word that gets thrown around a lot, yet, given our dominant culture of individuality I am not so sure we totally “get it.”
A book that has been helpful for me is “Community: The Structure of Belonging” by Peter Block. It is a fantastic read that offers deep wisdom on the function and place of community within the context of a highly individualistic society. Below is an excerpt that starts to dig deeper into the meaning of community.
“Community offers the promise of belonging and calls for us to acknowledge our interdependence. To belong is to act as an investor, owner, and creator of this place. To be welcome, even if we are strangers. As if we came to the right place and are affirmed for that choice.
To feel a sense of belonging is important because it will lead us from conversations about safety and comfort to other conversations, such as our relatedness and willingness to provide hospitality and generosity. Hospitality is the welcoming of strangers, and generosity is an offering with no expectation of return. These are two elements that we want to nurture as we work to create, strengthen, and restore our communities. This will not occur in a culture dominated by isolation, and it’s correlate, fear.” Page 3.
Belonging seems to be more than finding refuge from our highly individualistic society. While safety and comfort can be important, to belong is to be empowered beyond ourselves and recognize the importance of interdependence.
As I continue to reflect on this, questions like “Do you belong?” and “Do people within your community belong?” seem to be important for churches to ask. But it moves beyond that. It asks the important question “does your community offer a hospitality that empowers belonging?” It is easy to offer a broken man or woman refuge, but a whole other thing to offer them a place to belong. Imagine if your church dare offer that homeless person who walks in to the service every once and a while a place of belonging and not just a place of refuge. What a bold community that would be.
Take a look at the community of people Jesus had around him. Fishermen, tax collectors, the poor, prostitutes and others, many of whom marginalized by society but all given a place of refuge and all given a place to belong deep within the heart of God. It’s a divine community, yet also a reminder to us that a Jesus community empowers the belonging of all people.