I didn’t know it until much later, but my high school experience was kind of odd in terms of community. While many folks don’t have their first experience of true, deep community until college, I had not one, but two real community experiences in high school (one at my school and one at my church). Both were characterized by vibrant, growing relationships and genuine affection for the others in my community. Those experiences ruined me.
Having had a good taste of community already, I headed off to a Christian university super excited to live in a dorm and be a part of Christian community 24/7. Instead, I ended up spending much of my four years hurt and confused because I didn’t find the closeness I was hoping and longing for. The frustration and loneliness carried over into my early years out of college. At first, I felt like I had been cheated out of something I deserved. Eventually, I discovered there was a better explanation for the letdown I felt.
When I was in high school, it seemed that the deep connections and the sense of sharing life together “just happened.” Community felt pretty magical to me. I expected the same kinds of things to happen as I moved into adulthood, but they didn’t. There was no easy connection. No automatic sense of spiritual intimacy. I was pretty mad about that. Until I gained the maturity to look back at my high school community experience with fresh eyes. When I did, I realized that community wasn’t mystical or magical. It actually was the result of a lot of work and intentionality. But not my work or my intentionality.
In my case, a youth pastor and a choir director did a lot of planning and mentoring and scheduling and modeling that made community thrive. They called the meetings and practices. They made sure the community was spending lots of time together. They gave us common goals and pushed us to work hard to accomplish these goals. They provided the fun and the downtime for members of the groups to grow to genuinely like each other. I was so blessed to have them and their leadership in my life.
It took me a long time to realize that someone else wasn’t always going to be intentional on my behalf. If I wanted to find myself part of a thriving community, I needed to learn to be intentional myself. And then I realized something else: Intentionality is stinking hard work sometimes. Years later, I’m still learning to do it.
Often, the building blocks of community aren’t very romantic or exciting in and of themselves. With the expanded responsibility of adult life, it often takes months or even years for our efforts in community-building to bear fruit. But intentional effort we invest in community is still worth it.
Next week I’ll share some really practical things I’ve learned from Scripture that have helped me to be intentional in building community. For now, what have been your experiences of disillusionment with Christian community, and how did you respond?