Formation of Community
(1) The enemy of community is exclusivity. Groups that exclude others are not communities, but cliques.
(2) True communities are always reaching to extend themselves.
(3) In community there is no pressure to conform – encouraged to be yourself.
(1) Relative to commitment, exclusivity appears in two forms: excluding the other, and excluding yourself.
(2) Community, like marriage, requires that we hang in there when the going gets a little rough.
(3) Community: a group that has learned to transcend its individual differences. But this “learning” takes time, the time that can be bought only through commitment.
(4) “Transcend” (individual differences) does not mean, “obliterate” or “demolish”. It literally means, “to climb over” – reaching a mountaintop.
(5) The most necessary key to this transcendence is the appreciation of differences.
(6) When we ponder on how individual differences can be accommodated, perhaps the first mechanism we turn to (probably because it is the most childlike) is that of a strong individual leader. Squabbling siblings instinctively think their differences can be resolved by a mommy or a daddy.
(7) A less primitive way of resolving individual differences is democracy. We take a vote, and the majority determines which differences prevail. Majority rules.
(1) A characteristic of community is that it is realistic.
(2) Consequently, realistic decisions are more often quaranteed in community than in any other human environment, because of the freedom to express the many different points of view.
(3) A pre-requisite to realism is humility. Begin to appreciate each others’ gifts, and you begin to appreciate your own limitations.
4. CONTEMPLATION – EVALUATION
(1) No community can expect to be in perpetual good health. What a genuine community does do, however, because it is a contemplative body, is recognize its ill health when it occurs and quickly takes appropriate action to heal itself.
5. A SAFE PLACE
(1) Once a group has achieved community, the single most common thing member’s express is: “I feel safe here.”
(2) Virtually everyone enters a new group situation with his or her guard up. That guard goes very deep. Even if a conscious attempt is made to be open and vulnerable, there will still be ways in which unconscious defenses remain strong.
(3) It takes a great deal of work for a group of strangers to achieve the safety of true community. Once this place of safety is achieved, years and years of pent-up frustration and hurt and guilt and grief come pouring out. And pouring out ever faster. Once the members become vulnerable and find themselves being valued and appreciated, they become more and more vulnerable. Fear is replaced by hope.
(4) Human beings have within them a natural yearning and thrust toward health and wholeness and holiness. This yearning, this thrust is, however, enchained by fear, neutralized by defenses and resistances. But put a person in a truly safe place, where these defenses and resistances are no longer necessary, and the thrust towards health is liberated.
(5) Paradoxically, then, a group of humans becomes healing and converting only after its members have learned to stop trying to heal and convert. Community is a safe place precisely because no one is attempting to heal or convert you, to fix you, to change you. Instead the members accept you just as you are. You are free to be you.
6. A LABORATORY FOR PERSONAL DISARMAMENT
(1) When community is regarded as a laboratory it refers to a safe place for people to experiment with personally disarming themselves.
7. A GROUP THAT CAN FIGHT GRACEFULLY
(1) At first glance it seems paradoxical that a community that is a safe place and a laboratory for disarming should also be a place of conflict.
(2) This is no accident. It is a place where weapons and armour have been laid down, where members respect each others’ gifts and accept each others’ limitations, where they celebrate their differences and bind each others’ wounds, where they are committed to a struggling together rather than against each other.
8. A GROUP OF ALL LEADERS
(1) When a leader’s job is over he/she can sit back and relax and be one among many, for another of the essential characteristics of community is a total decentralization of authority.
(2) Communities have sometimes been referred to as leaderless groups. It is more accurate, however, to say that a community is a group of all leaders – the “flow of leadership”.
9. A SPIRIT
(1) The spirit of community is not envisioned as a purely human spirit or one created solely by the group. It is external to and independent of the group. It is the presence of God’s kingdom. Whenever God’s kingdom breaks through community is established. This does not mean that the experience of God’s kingdom is accidental or unpredictable. It can fall upon and take root only in fertile, prepared ground.
II. Stages of community-making
1. PSEUDOCOMMUNITY – Developing relationships and sharing the vision.
(1) Pseudocommunity is conflict avoiding; true community is conflict resolving.
(2) It ignores individual differences – crushes individuality, intimacy, and honesty. (Is the expression of individuality encouraged or discouraged in the average church congregation?)
(3) Speaking in generalities – instead of making “I” statements.
2. CHAOS – Transition, trust development.
(1) Chaos always centres around well-intentioned but mis-guided attempts to heal and convert.
(2) Unlike pseudocommunity, individual differences are out in the open and not hidden or ignored, but a concerted effort is made to obliterate them.
(3) Attempt to heal and convert are not necessarily motivated by love, but are attempts to make everyone normal and to win.
(4) Fighting and struggling in this stage is uncreative and unconstructive.
(5) This stage can easily be circumvented by an authoritarian leader – the peacemaker or the dictator – who assigns them specific tasks and goals. The only problem is that a group led by a peacemaker or dictator is not, and never can be, a community.
(6) A “secondary leader” in response to this perceived vacuum of leadership in this stage, will attempt to replace the designated leader. Their solutions to defuse chaos is virtually always an “escape into organization.”
(7) Fighting is far better than pretending you are not divided. It’s painful, but it’s a beginning.
3. EMPTINESS – Fruitfulness
There are only two ways out of chaos: 1) into organization – but organization is never community or 2) into and through emptiness.
(1) Group members need to empty themselves of barriers to communication – feelings, assumptions, ideas, and motives. The process of emptying themselves of these barriers is the key to the transition from “rugged” to “soft” individualism.
(2) Barriers that need to be emptied:
Expectations and Preconceptions. Community-building is an adventure, a going into the unknown – the trepidation of the emptiness of the unknown (Life is what happens when you planned something else). We do not go easily into new situations with an open (and empty) mind.
Prejudices in two categories:
(i) The judgments we make about people without any experience of them whatsoever.
(ii) The judgments we make about people on the basis of a very brief, limited experience (distrust instant community – community-building requires time).
Ideology, Theology and Solutions. “I am the only one right!” attitude – your image of God is totally biblical.
(3) The Need to Heal, Convert, Fix, or Solve
During the stage of chaos, when the members of a group attempt to heal each other, they believe they are being loving. Relieving your neighbour of her suffering or inability to see the light, in this stage, is naïve and ineffective, self-centred and self-serving. It hurts me when my friend is in pain. If I can do something to relieve this pain I will feel better.
The same is true with the attempt to convert. If your theology or ideology is different from mine, it calls mine into question. It is uncomfortable for me to be uncertain of my own understanding is such basic matters. On the other hand, if I could convert you to my way of thinking, it would not only relieve my discomfort, it would be further proof of the rectitude of my beliefs and cast me in the role of saviour to boot. How much easier and nicer that would be than extending myself to understand you as you are.
As a group enters the stage of emptiness the members come to realize – sometimes suddenly, sometimes gradually – that their desires to heal, convert, or otherwise “solve” their interpersonal differences is a self-centred desire for comfort through the obliteration of these differences. And then it begins to dawn on them that there may be an opposite way: the appreciation and celebration of interpersonal differences.
(4) The Need to Control
If a leader is not to control – let the group get out of control – what then is the role of the leader? What if the group fails? The constant temptation is to do things – manipulations or maneuvers – that will ensure the desired outcome. But the desired outcome – community – cannot be achieved by an authoritarian leader who calls the shots.
Community must be a creation of the group as a whole. Each member of the group needs to be told that each member is no more and no less responsible than any other member for the success of the group. Paradoxically, then, to be an effective leader you must spend most of the time sitting back, doing nothing, waiting, letting it happen.
Using “I” statements, what do you need to give up in order to allow community to happen?
Isn’t there any way into community except through emptiness? No!
Isn’t there any way into community except through the sharing of brokenness? No!
Attempts to heal, convert, fix or solve by some members when other member share their brokenness, blocks further expressions of pain and suffering. And if the group by itself does not soon recognize this, the leader must point this out, and usually these members correct their callousness. But some groups toward the end of this stage will wage their final last-ditch struggle against community. “Let’s stop being so negative, as I have my own problems at home!”
At this stage the struggle is not against individual differences. The group has gone too far for that. Instead the struggle is over wholeness.
4. COMMUNITY – Multiplication or stagnation.
(1) The task as a group is to create an atmosphere of safety and acceptance in which healing can occur.
(2) Sooner or later all groups attempt to avoid their task.
(a) Task-avoidance assumptions:
(i) Flight – ignoring of emotional pain – fleeing from troublesome issues.
(ii) Fight – fruitless conflict going nowhere – centres on attempts to heal or convert rather than the attempt to incorporate individual differences.
(iii) Pairing – excluding the rest of the group.
(iv) Dependency – depending on a leader – community cannot exist if the members depend upon a leader to lecture them or carry their load – the group needs to be told that, “each one of us has no more and no less responsibility than any other for the success of our work together. But groups do not take kindly to being even relatively “leaderless”. People much rather depend upon a leader to tell them what to do than determine that for themselves. Groups rapidly slip into dependency.
(3) When a group is working effectively and appropriately on its task or toward its completion – it becomes a working group.
(4) A group is not just a collection of individuals, but must be seen as an organism with a life of its own.
(5) Until a group becomes a community – a group of all leaders (each taking responsibility to use their own gifts in and through the group) – its members will almost invariably misunderstand and resent their non-authoritarian leader. Indeed, their desire for an authority figure or father figure may be so strong that they will figuratively crucify the leader who refuses to accede to their demands.
(6) To lead people into community, a true leader must discourage their dependency.
(7) The hardest part for the leader is self-denial. It is refusing the temptation to be the leader, the group clamours for.
(8) Interventions in group behaviour:
(a) The general rule is, that leaders should restrict their interventions to interpretations of group rather than individual behaviour. The aim of such interventions is, not to tell the group what to do, but to awaken it to awareness of its behaviour.
(b) One effect of this style of leadership is to teach the other members also to think in terms of the group as a whole. In the beginning few have any group consciousness, but by the time they reach community, most of the participants have learned to be aware of themselves as a body.
(c) The designated leader should make only those interventions that the other members are not capable of making.
(d) This requires that the designated leader must do a lot of waiting. Such necessary waiting (which often appears to be weak leadership) is possible only when designated leaders are willing to empty themselves of their need to be in control.
(e) One of the agonizing tasks of such a leader is to continually discern just how long to wait before concluding that the group is not yet ready to handle the problem itself.
(f) In exceptional cases, however, a leader has to focus on the behaviour of an individual who refuses to submit to the process of community-building. Such people should not, however, be soley dealt with by a designated leader. It should be the responsibility of the group as a whole to solve the problem of such community busters.
(g) To be in true community means to be in constant pain and tension over the problem of human evil – the community busters.
(9) Rules to building community:
Refrain from generalizations – speak personally using “I” language.
Avoid being tempted to heal or convert.
Empty yourself. “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at the moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point” (Martin Luther). Listen wholeheartedly.
Embrace the painful as well as the pleasant. Commit to ride out the storm.
(10) It is a characteristic of true community that it will squarely confront realities, and do it as gently and respectfully as possible.
(11) Community once attained is never obtained for all time – we naturally fall back – even the most skilled groups will flow in and out of community.
(12) While external service may be its ultimate task, self-scrutiny and the other efforts required for self-maintenance must remain its first priority.