"Authentic community" is an easily defined term if you are simply defining what the two words mean yet I think they are much less so when we begin to define what they mean in our lives. This post is my attempt at describing what I think is crucial to living a wholehearted, integrated, deeply loving life.
Authentic community is not defined by a church full of hipsters that drink coffee and talk about how authentic their community is. I have found authentic community within many relationships at my church but I have it elsewhere too. Writing this is helping me to see other places that I have found that over the years. But for the sake of simplicity I am going to tell you what it looks like in my personal church, just understand that I do not think this is something that must be found at church.
I often describe my church as a "house full of misfits". If we were a puzzle and you poured all the pieces out on a table and just stand back it’s hard to imagine that pieces could possibly fit together. There is diversity in race, age, status, theology, thinking, etc., yet when you begin to assemble the puzzle something magical happens. Where there are gaps one piece fills in for the other. The pieces fit, and not only do they fit they create this incredibly beautiful picture.
Authentic community says it’s okay that we aren’t all alike. It holds up a mirror to each other. While some of us are committed to putting the buggy in the right holding spot at Target others of us park it at the front corner of our car. Instead of the “obeyers” calling out the “free spirits” we look into the mirror and say “maybe we need not only repent of the things we do wrong but also of the things we do right with wrong hearts.” Realizing that the truth of all our behavior is way more than surface deep, and we love past that surface!
Authentic community welcomes you to talk about your brokenness. Knowing that the response will be love. The crazy thing is not just loving you as you talk about it, authentic community actually loves you IN your brokenness. There is no trying to fix you. What there is is space holding for you before the “fixer”. If we could put language to it it may sound like "I know you are imperfect like me, one day we will be better, let's help each other get better, in the mean time I love you."
I’ve learned that we don’t try to fix each other because the truth is we are all in this boat together and we know that someone else’s broken place is shining light on our own. Maybe different but there. Some of us having neon light sin, the kind that no one can miss, while others may deal heart issues that we haven’t even realized quite yet.
The story of Jesus at Mary and Martha’s house is a great picture of authentic community. I was once such a Martha. I hated sermons about this, my thought was always “someone has to do the work”. How cool is it that Martha walks into the room as Mary is on the floor worshiping Jesus. I have always imagined that as this super holy time, everyone is reverent, a few candles burning, Spotify is playing "We Dance" by Steffany Gretzinger and Martha is like “Jesus, come on. Tell her to get her lazy self up and help me.” Martha wasn’t afraid of upsetting Mary or Jesus or anyone else in the room. Then Jesus telling her “nope, Mary is doing the good part”. Martha isn’t storming out and slamming the door in this story. They are simply stating the facts about their feelings. That is authentic community!!! It is okay to be annoyed at something and say you are.
Authentic community nurtures individual authenticity. It says…. Whatever you are passionate about DO THAT thing! It NEVER says conform. It doesn’t say think just like me it says“what do you think?” and is genuinely interested in the answer, not just waiting for it’s turn to talk.
Authentic community recognizes and honors that all of us are on a journey at different places along the way.
It says everyone is invited to the table. The thing is this table is messy. Everyone’s junk is plopped right in the middle of the table.
We can agree and disagree in the same breath. We can feed each other and then throw food. But the best part about this table, is that we say this….. no matter how messy or uncomfortable this table gets, PLEASE DON’T LEAVE THE TABLE. Let's talk it out, get dirty, be brave together as we expose our our hearts to each.
In a less fluffy way of saying it, authentic community is having relationships with people that know your crap. That know the darkest places in you and lightest places in you. Do you have that with anyone? For much of my life I only felt safe to share the slightly ugly and was certainly not going to talk about the things I truly dreamed of. Both could lead to judgement. I'm not saying I expose myself to every person I meet but I do have people that I have chosen to let in completely. Letting go of the fear of judgement and realizing that being truly known and loved by people creates community that will mourn and celebrate with me. They will tug me toward light with so much grace.
I am so thankful for the people in my life that I experience this with. I pray that if you do not have at least one person to experience this with that you will be open to explore what that could look like for you. Maybe really ask yourself what you are afraid of or why you aren't experiencing it. What is the first step in creating change in this area? Maybe you have to let go of needing to judge or fix someone or maybe it's simply fear. The first step is being honest with yourself and asking God to bring you into relationships that are so real and healing.