“Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Life Together)
My friend Kurt Willems wrote a beautiful blog post this morning about his dreams for the church and it got me thinking about my own dreams for her. More to the point, it got me thinking about the countless mishaps I created while attempting to synthetically manufacture some of these dreams over the years. I can’t recall when or where I picked up this ridiculous idea but for a while, I thought that my job as a pastor was to create or produce a community of people who acted a particular way. This included the way they talked, what they watched, what they drank, who they befriended, and how they spent their money, among other things. I never said as much for fear of being labeled controlling or overbearing. But silently, I did my best to manipulate those in my church community into looking, sounding, and acting the particular way I thought best.
A few weeks ago the city of Collinsville, Illinois outlawed baggy pants. The ordinance reads: “Pants must be secured at the waist to prevent them from falling more than 3 inches below the hips.” Violators are fined $100 for the first offense and $300 for subsequent offenses. I’ve never been to Collinsville but from what I’ve read, it sounds like a decent place with good people. So how is it that good people from a decent place would pass such an asinine law? I think it may be the same reason I led with manipulative intentions early on in ministry. And it’s what Bonhoeffer writes about in Life Together. It is our honest, earnest, sacrificial desire to see a community fulfill our personal dreams for that community, rather than an honest, earnest, sacrificial love for the community itself. There is a world of difference between the two and we must take measures to navigate carefully away from the one and toward the other.
Bonhoeffer also wrote elsewhere that the church is a community of saints and sinners. By this, he did not mean to say that some are saints while others are sinners; he posits that we are all saints and we are all sinners. The church is most dysfunctional when it becomes a fragmented community, full of individuals fighting to create carbon copies of themselves. I think in many ways, we try to make others look like us to save ourselves the trouble of having to work on our own issues. But there is immense freedom in being honest with one another. There is a harmony created amongst us when we choose love over judgment. Communities centered on the person of Jesus Christ are called to be generous with not only their resources and time, but with their love and grace.
So whether we agree on everything or not, remember that you and I are both in this together. We have both received generously and are called to give generously in return. We are both called and invited by a grace beyond comprehension and completely undeserved. And we are both loved by God the same, one no more and no less than the other. So wear your pants however you’d like.
Editors Note: Today’s posting is a blog originally written and posted a few months ago by a friend of mine, Jay Kim. If you haven’t already (I quoted something from him in my last article, “Conquering Pain”), bookmark or favorite his blog – He’s full of great wisdom and insights that I benefit from day in and day out! Jay is currently a College Pastor at Church on the Hill in San Jose (Yes, it is literally a church… on a hill!). Sunday Services are 9:00AM and 10:45AM at 500 Sands Dr, San Jose, CA 95125.
At the time that I read this blog a few months back in August, it spoke straight to my heart because growing up in a conservative Chinese Christian church, there was definitely a lot more judgment than there was love most times. And eventually, this is what drove me away from the church, and away from God. Thank the Lord I eventually came running back to Him, but it was such a strong reminder of how community can be a means to uplift and encourage, but can also devastate or demolish an individual’s growth and even well-being.
Bringing it back to real time today, this idea of a safe, secure community that loves you for not only your strengths, but also for your weaknesses and failures is still an ideal to not only be desired, but to be fought for, and worked hard for. For example, even in our Witness Core team, we’ve struggled a lot within the last few months in regards to our hopes, visions, and dreams for WitnessSF. We all have our personal goals and agendas for what we believe God to be doing through our ministry, and how we feel the day-to-day functions and processes should be like. Throughout the last year, we’ve definitely had our growing pains together – agreeing and disagreeing on certain things and issues, gaining new team members but also losing some… having difficulties finding direction and consistency, dealing with personal struggles and pains, and much more. I can say that through all of these experiences, we’ve really learned to love each other as we are… Not only our weaknesses, fears, failures, and shame, but we’ve also learned to appreciate each other for our strengths, and really think through how we can contribute to the team through these God-given talents and gifts. And at the very root of it all, that we are all here for the same reason – to serve for the Lord. It’s not about our own end goals as much as it is about the community and relationships that we’re building together. Remembering that makes all the other little things seem trivial.. and it’s this belief that keeps us humble, loving, gracious, and forgiving… which in turn builds a strong and stable foundation our personal friendships, but also our partnerships and within the WitnessSF team and community.
Jay’s blog is a great reminder that we each hold the responsibility to love on each other as God has loved us with an open mind and heart. To be gracious at all times to all people. To rebuke thoughts or feelings of pride, injustice, and judgments. Let’s all do our part as individuals, to bring unity into our communities, and eventually to the entire body of Christ, leading by example through extending love and grace to all those around us.
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
- Ephesians 4:2-6, 15-16