I’m a people person, until I’m not.
I’ve always liked being around people, listening to their stories, learning about their views, and engaging in meaningful work. And then when I’ve had enough of people, I want to be by myself, do my own thing, and let my mind dictate its own path. I’m a lot like our friend from Office Space, Tom Smykowski, in that way. Anyone with me?
Regardless of my eventual frustrations, I’ve always love to be in community, but I’ve never really thought about why its so important until recently when I read Bishop Schnase’s Five Practices books. There are so many benefits–we see a new perspective on issues; we are awakened to the spiritual nature of things; we are given spiritual strength during difficult times; we have the opportunity to look at our choices through the lens of faith; we are encouraged (love that one); and we find care and compassion in and for others. Those are some pretty amazing reasons to be in a group of believers, trying to be better, follow closer, and love more.
Even before I read his books, I enjoyed going to small groups, whether Sunday School, Bible studies, lay speaker training, retreats, or fellowship gatherings, for those very reasons. I am fed and nurtured by those experiences. I am encouraged and I walk closer during those times. That all makes sense and it was nice to see such a concise list.
What I didn’t think about was this little nugget:
We are all familiar with the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And there is not a religion or culture that doesn’t believe that these qualities are inherently good and laudable. This is a truly brilliant list, one that challenges all of us to be our very best. But I ask you, as I asked myself, can you develop a true understanding of any of these qualities without being in relationship with others?
- Can you truly understand love until you are loved when you least deserve it?
- Can you truly understand joy until you experience something so amazing that you must share it?
- Can you truly understand peace until you witness the chaos of humanity?
- Can you truly understand patience until you are faced with a screaming 5 year old who declares he will only eat at McDonald’s (not that I’m speaking from last night’s personal experience or anything)?
- Can you truly understand kindness until you meet a person who is nothing but mean and bitter?
- Can you truly understand generosity until you meet someone who chooses to share what little they have with you?
- Can you truly understand faithfulness until you are betrayed?
- Can you truly understand gentleness until you are faced with disdain and misuse?
- Can you truly understand self-control until you witness perfect decorum in another while your blood boils?
These are fair questions, but the answer is the same. No. We need each other to learn, to improve, to sharpen our skills, to deepen our compassion, to become the best we can possibly be. We need to be in fellowship with people who will challenge us, encourage us, support us, and love us as we journey, as they journey. We need each other to develop into the vision God has placed before us.
If you find yourself having more days like Office Space‘s Tom than not, seek out a community to grow in. You can’t grow until you are in relationship with others who are also trying to grow!
This is my second reflection from Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. (My first one is here.) Bishop Schnase argues that Intentional Faith Development can only occur in community. Yes, individual “quiet time” is important, but we need a body of believers to commune with in order to understand more fully.
If you have comments or questions, please share. I encourage lots of dialogue on this very thought-provoking topic!