Communitas in the Church

This is a powerful indictment on the contemporary church and our superficial level of commitment to the cause of being part of community-on-mission to reach our world. I’m praying that true communitas — a deeper togetherness formed around a shared mission or struggle — will characterized MainStreet in the days to come. Here’s Paul De Neui’s conclusion in his essay,

“Christian Communitas In The Missio Dei: Living Faithfully in the Tension between Cultural Osmosis and Alienation

“Connecting with the missio Dei, partnering with a cause greater than oneself, and experiencing communitas would appear to be a natural fit for the church. Christian communitas and its byproduct of Christian community is at least an ideal, if not a reality in most churches. Would not the opportunity to partner in God’s greater mission and to deepen relation with God, with each other, and the world be attractive? In his book A World Waiting to Be Born M. Scott Peck shares his experience when he developed the Foundation for Community Encouragement (FCE), an organization dedicated to promoting his version of genuine transformative community.

When we began FCE, we assumed that the church would be a natural market for its services. Christians generally knew that the early church seemed to have had an extraordinary amount of community. . . . Many clergy and laypeople bemoaned the lack of community within their churches. . . . What organization could possibly be more interested in welcoming the presence of God into its midst?

The results within the church were disappointing. Churches showed virtually no interest in building a deeper sense of commitment to each other or their surrounding culture. After analyzing possible reasons for this resistance, Peck concludes:

Community requires a great deal of time and work. The workplace is the center of most people’s lives. Next comes the family. Church, if it comes in at all, is usually a poor third or fourth. Most churchgoers simply do not have the time to “do” community at church. Nor do they want to do the painful work of emotionally stretching at church that community requires. The few whomake attempts to actualize the church as a place of the Kingdom of God on earth may find themselves silenced by the congregation with an enormously powerful, subtle effectiveness.

Communitas, if it is experienced at all in churches, now occurs during short one to two week periods where we are taken out of our comfort zone and placed in a situation where we are supposed to do something. This is also known as the short term mission trip. The glowing reports that come back reflect the changes that have occurred in the lives of the sent. Youth complain that church is nothing like that and wonder why communitas cannot be a regular, rather than a once-in-a- lifetime, event.

According to Peck’s research communitas does exist in Western culture, but not in the church. It is alive and well in the business world. “Here is where a single decision may cost [people] their employment, their livelihood. Here is where millions of dollars may be in play every day—sums of money a thousand times greater than their entire annual church budget. These decisions count.”

If the task is urgent enough, if it is truly life and death, then those involved will be willing to pay the price to experience and become communitas. Otherwise, we sit comfortably and allow the creeping influence of cultural osmosis to slowly do its work. Understanding the urgency of our participation with the missio Dei transforms our cultural blindness to compassionate incarnation and prophetic intelligibility.”

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