Jeff McQuillan, in his post, "Tribe" at communitas collective, points out that the need for community isn't just about Christ-followers. He believes that it is a need inherent in all of mankind;
At heart, we are tribal, and we are looking for our tribe. We are looking for that place where we belong.I agree with Jeff. Because we are created by a God whose very being is wrapped up in community, whose character IS LOVE, as creatures in His image, it is also inherent in our character to love and be loved. Even though mankind is "fallen," we still need and seek community - and the only way that longing will be fulfilled is to find our way back to community with our Creator and with His children whom He created for community with Him. We are meant to be part of a "tribe" - a particular people living in a community and family whose Head and center is Jesus Christ.
In some ways, institutional church does provide a sense of community. In fact, true community, centered in Christ, can be found in traditional churches, but so often the structures and systems that have been built around the church of Christ actually interfere with the community in which we are meant to live as God's family. So many believers are seeking to be part of a local church community that has moved away from those structures and systems (well-meaning as those things are often meant to be), to seek out church that is Christ-indwelled. And often, for a time, they find themselves with that "wilderness feeling" as they move out to seek to follow Jesus and be one with Him and His body.
Here are Jeff's encouraging words of hope, even as he still finds himself at that "wilderness place" in his journey:
And so I do not believe it should be the ultimate goal for people to exit organized Chrisitianity just to wander the wilderness alone forever. It’s where I am now, and it’s how I feel–and it aches–but I know one day I will once again find my tribe.Erin, in her post "A Hole In My Heart," also at communitas collective, talks about some of the ways "God has soothed my fears about lacking relationships in this new, unchurched place I now live." These ways include, for Erin, the following:
- meeting people from all over the world and building some true friendships through her blog
- meeting new friends in her community in various ways: her children moved to public school, and there she met parents of other children; joining a relay team; and inviting her son's friends to hang out in their home to play video games, be fed, and feel accepted.
Poverty, racial tension, gangs and lack of hope for the future are central parts of the lives of many of the children and teenagers in our community. I am not naïve; I know that as a white-middle-class family we have a wall to break down. I’ve already seen it and know what we face. But I can’t help but also know that a small positive contribution to the life of any one of these individuals could be the thing that sticks with them; that one day is a catalyst for change in their life.
I hate to say it, but for me, there is far more community out in the real world than there is inside a church. We live among with real, diverse, and human people; not cookie cutters of morality and belief.
I believe my role in life isn’t to spend time discussing the same things with the same like-minded people, or to serve a community that serves me back. I believe my role is to make whatever small contributions I can to whichever lives cross my path, one day at a time. I do believe I find God there among the suffering and the grief and the laughter and the insanity of a broad, deep, diverse and imperfect people.
And there no longer exists a hole in my heart.
Josh, in his blog post, "Church Life More Than a Meeting," also encourages us when we experience that "wilderness feeling." He reminds us that the wilderness time can be a positive time of isolation, in which we experience heart-healing, we unlearn many things, and Christ reveals Himself within the believer in a very personal way.
He also reminds us what it is that we are truly longing for - that "tribe" that we were created to be a part of. Josh writes:
It is truly a wonderful thing to experience life together in the Body of Christ not once, not twice, but seven days a week!Yes, you say, I know that. But how do I get there? Here's Josh's advice, and I think it is something we need to really focus on:
Church life, you see, is togetherness. It is sharing life together under the headship of Jesus Christ. It is not virtual or theoretical, it is practical, in-your-face community living.
So no matter what difficulty I (or you) may be faced with, we have to take this before the Lord, travail before Him over it, and settle for nothing less than that the Lord might raise up a true expression of the church in our locality.And for those who are still hanging onto systems and programs, Josh also has this to say:
I've said this before and I'll say it again: Shut down the meetings for a while and see how much time the saints still spend together. This will give you a pretty good idea of how much true church life is going on. If Christ is really our life and we are indeed being built together as His House then we won't be able to stay away from each other. This drawing together, this instinct for fellowship, is proof to the world that we are His, and it is proof of one other thing as well: The church is more than a meeting!
All these blog posts I've quoted have been helpful to me when I've had that "wilderness feeling." But one post, "I still haven't found what I'm looking for" by Bobby Auner, really has pulled it together for me, because in this post he centers on what we are really looking for - and how it will really come to pass:
I walked out on institutional christianity for one main reason. I wanted a deeper knowledge and intimacy with Jesus Christ.
I continued reading scripture and praying. I also began to study books and scripture to see if I could find the missing pieces. What I found was that the church gatherings I had been a part of were nothing like the picture of the 1st Century church in the New Testament.
So what is it I am looking for? If I am not complete with the status quo of the Christian masses and I am also not satisfied with a simple/house church gathering that looks more like the New Testament Church, what more is there? Where do I go from here? Starbucks? The golf course?
I am convinced that what I am looking for will not be found in an institutional church and many simple/house churches are only focused on the proper form and pattern of church to bring out desired effects. What we are looking for is people who are feasting on Christ and living by His life in the Spirit. When we have that the forms and patterns will follow.
As Paul wrote letters to the Churches he had planted he did not give them special instructions on how to "do church". We do not have a prescriptive blueprint for what a gathering of saints should look like. What we have is a constant effort to keep everyone focused on Christ. It is this Christ-centered living that results in the church we have described for us in the NT. I'm afraid that when we put forms and patterns first we have the cart before the horse. Worse, we have abandoned Christ for our own schemes.
What draws me is Christ and his depths and riches are unfathomable for me but together we can plummet into His depths. First we must give up all our efforts to build the right church and seek oneness with the Spirit within. He will build His Church as we are One with Him. May we consume and be consumed by our risen Lord and seek daily the bread that comes down from heaven. Then and only then will we be satisfied.
What do you think? Are you still suffering from that "wilderness feeling"? Is it time to move beyond it? How does that happen? By a "form" of church we design? Or by constantly focusing on Christ-centered life? Read that last paragraph again!
(And if you haven't yet listened to the "Epic Jesus: The Christ You Never Knew" podcast with Frank Viola yet, I urge you to do so today. If you find listening difficult, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll send you the notes I took when I listened to it!)