Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1John 3:18); Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. (Rom 12:9)
“Rev, for the first time since being here, I feel truly authentic.” These were the words of a student to me, reflecting her feelings after spending one year at UTCWI, attending classes, participating in devotions, sharing in community activities as well as other denominational activities. I heard relief, I heard the fulfilment of expectations. I heard disappointment turned to joy and I heard, “I have been in this community, but only now I feel like I belong”
Authentic Community defined/described
This student for me highlighted what a person experiences in an authentic community. In Bible study on Wednesday November 2, I defined/described authentic community as, “communities where you feel like yourself, where you are free to express yourself without feeling judged or condemned. Where you can love, trust, respect and feel respected. Where you can grow and help others grow and where you feel others genuinely care for you as a person, where you can become the person Christ desires. I know this because I share in such communities. I cannot say that all the communities I have been in provided the same depth of human interaction, but I am part of such communities. I also shared seven principles identified by Dan Notti in an online article. He listed these as;
- A place that is profoundly safe
- A place where we never give up on one another
- A place where wisdom about how to live emerges from conversation
- A place where what is most alive in us is touched
- A place where we embrace the reality of ‘many hands’
- A place where we model what it means to wrestle with the unknown and embrace the mysteries of faith
- A place where Christ’s life is enough
Isn’t this what John means when he counsels, “let us not love in words alone”? And when you listen to Paul writing to the Romans, instructing them to let love be genuine, isn’t this the picture you get?
We must therefore ask these questions.
Is our church an authentic community?
Having identified those features we are all in a good position to determine if we feel and experience these qualities in our church. Do we experience the sense of acceptance, of vulnerability, of care of trust and non-judgement in the groups we are connected to in the church? If you answered no to any of these questions, then it means that we need to understand why and begin to change what we can. There is no doubt that some people experience this. And when they do, they are anxious for others to have a similar experience. I do believe God wants us as a church to have authentic communities. Authenticity is at the heart of God. It is central to the relationship of the godhead and it is always included in God’s mission to the world and hence should be evident in our church.
Do we desire for our church to be an authentic community?
I think it is appropriate for the church to have this desire. It is in this kind of community that we really experience the one another-ness spoken of in Acts. It is in this kind of community that we can experience the oneness for which Jesus prayed in John 17. When the desire exists, born out of a willingness to embrace the will of God, then it will make us intentional in creating real communities. These features can be created in our cell groups, aligned geographically, in the classes, in our Sunday school and in other groups in the church. But this must be the commitment of each group.
How can we create authentic communities in our church.
One of the things I know that makes authentic communities possible is trust. We each must decide to trust one another. Trusting involves being vulnerable and being open to change. It involves the willingness to give of ourselves sacrificially. Like the seed of which Jesus referenced, unless we are prepared to die to self, we remain alone. It is in dying that we grow and help others to grow.
Secondly, we create authentic communities by admitting our brokenness. None of us is better than the other, none of us know more than the other and none of us is more righteousness than the other. God is doing some repair work in all of us. And so you never enter a group assuming that you have nothing to change but everybody else needs changing.
Thirdly, we all need to be patient. Some persons will take a little while to be fully on board. Take your time with them. When you develop a great sense of self-awareness you will know if you love yourself and have a real love for others. Love is patient and kind. Where these are present, others will know and it will eventually silence their criticism and their reticence.
We can make the church an authentic Christian community. But we all must be involved and use the strategies and the tools given by God to accomplish His will among us. I encourage you to discuss in your groups, in classes, wherever you meet; ask how we can commit to God and to one another your efforts to change what we have to what we can become.