As is the case with most of us, I'm in many different communities, all with a different set of expectations. But it's the moving from a larger believing community to a much smaller one that is worthy of dissection to me at this juncture. It is as if we, myself and the members of our little group, are conducting this fascinating experiment to discover what makes community work, and conversely, what causes it's failure. In our little experiment, we all came out of the same larger community into a much smaller home fellowship - a small, intimate but open, mini-community. In our ongoing conversations, we have made some interesting observations:
- A community is sweetest and most edifying when members are actively seeking to learn about each of the other members on a personal level for the sake of friendship, love and support.
- Trust and loyalty to the community is fostered among the members by paying scrupulous attention to honesty, righteousness and transparency.
- Community members feel safe and secure within the group when they are accepted, respected, valued, wanted and needed.
We have also noted that in a religious or believing community, it is most beneficial if all members are at the same 'level' of belief or zealousness (for lack of a better term). This is not to say that those of differing levels of spiritual maturity are not welcomed into the group, or that any think they are better, but simply that it is more edifying when all are of the same mindset and determination to worship, study, and serve. The bigger the group, the more difficult this is to achieve, obviously. It is also clear that groups form from a strong, but small, 'core' of like-minded believers. This small group starts out intimate and focused, but as growth occurs so does change. As new souls are added to the mix - introducing different motives, priorities and standards - it is easy to see a change in the dynamic of the group, resulting in the more common layers of community.
|It would be interesting to ponder |
the definitions of each of these layers...
As the group grows, you can see the shift from the strong, united small group to a larger group consisting of naturally-occurring smaller groups of like-minded individuals (determined by their level of commitment, priorities, etc.). It would be nearly impossible to achieve the small-core intimacy with the entire community with so many variables (priorities, standards, commitment) in play. It is no wonder that churches everywhere are embracing the 'small group' model for bible study and home fellowship to achieve that connection and intimacy that is only possible with a smaller number of souls (also to retain members, as it clear that people will not stay in a community or congregation if they don't feel valued, needed or wanted).
Another piece of this community puzzle that peaked my attention was a more spiritual one. In our little group, we marvel at the reality of each bringing different gifts and talents to the 'table'. We believe this is not by accident, and I would go further to say that it ties in directly to what Paul talks about in his 'body' analogy in 1 Corinthians 12:4-12. We see this playing out every time we are together; in a small group this is quite easy to observe. Because each member feels safe and accepted, they are free to share their G-d given gifts and talents. However, it may be more difficult to see in a larger group; those in the outer layers (of our model above) oftentimes contribute very little or not at all, leaving the common 80/20 scenario (80% of the ministry is done by 20% of the members). Small groups within a larger community have the opportunity showcase and utilize the gifts and talents of each member of the group. However, this leaves the larger community rather fragmented or disjointed. Would that cause members to forsake the larger community, choosing their edifying small group, where their needs are being met? Is this what the writer to the Hebrews is referring to in Hebrews 10:24-25?
I'm still not ready to commit to a bottom-line definition of community. However, I certainly feel like I'm getting closer...
Community is a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals, and demonstrates similarity or identity (through halachah). It is a group of interdependent members with different backgrounds and experiences, growing and living together in shared lifestyle and purpose. In a healthy and thriving community, members willingly show joint obligation and ownership of the character, reputation and responsibilities of the community.