This past month, I read through Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book on Christian Community, Life Together. Bonhoeffer is a fascinating guy, a pastor who lived in Nazi Germany and opposed their regime. He is best known for his books Life Together and The Cost of Discipleship. There are several great biographies on Bonhoeffer. If you’re a big reader, I highly recommend Eric Metaxas’ biography on him.
In Life Together, Bonhoeffer wrote, “Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from an [unrealistic] dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and then try and realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. We may find ourselves overwhelmed by disillusionment with others, with Christian community, and if we are lucky, ourselves. This too is God’s grace.”
If we build up Christian community as some perfect ideal where everyone behaves a certain way (usually according to our own personal moral standards) we’re only going to be seriously let down. That kind of dreaming actually prevents community from happening because in order to meet those standards of perfection, every one basically has to lie and put up a front.
Bonhoeffer continues, “The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both. A community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists upon its illusion when it should shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community.”
Some of you guys might feel the pressure to appear perfect before your small group members. You might be desperately trying to hide that you don’t know the Bible well enough, that your marriage is in a season of struggle, that your job kind of sucks right now. You might think that as a small group leader you need to look like you have it all together. Just stop it. Just. Stop. It.
If you are honest with your crew, model vulnerability, and admit when you don’t know the answer to a question, that will only help them feel more comfortable to be honest and vulnerable as well.
Also, you aren’t going to be best friends with everyone in your group. There might be some guys that you just want to punch in the face. And you may be tempted to pray, “God, please let them catch a cold or something so that they don’t show up this week and blow it for the rest of us.” I’ve been there. I’m working on it.
I’m trying to teach myself to pray, “God, change MY heart. Help me learn how to love and respect them.” When I have the courage to pray that way, God actually does it. He changes my heart. At the very least, I’m more intentional about trying to be more gracious towards that person.
We are a community that is founded in grace. God loved us when we were messed up, not put together, not exactly the right material to build a movement with. God loves us still today with that kind of love because we are still in that same boat, maybe marginally better. If God extends that grace to us, and that’s the foundation of our relationship with Him, then of course a “Christian Community” must be one that is built on showing the same kind of grace to others, even if they aren’t the picture perfect community we built up in our heads.
So as we welcome new people into our homes and lives, remember that we are all a work in progress, and God has given us the grace to grow on this journey together.