Why is True Community So Difficult?

Community is hard. Building camaraderie takes time. Establishing unity and a bond among a group of people is complex and requires many variables.

If I had a frustration with God about what he is up to it wouldn’t be about some internal struggle of mine; it would be the failure and lack of potential in the groups I have been a part of or am a part of. My nature is to just say forget it and throw up my hands and curl up with my books, my music, and my thoughts and leave the challenge of building community behind.

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Even in the Apprentice Experience, noticeably filled with 30 maturing and serious believers, there were marks of serious relational problems and the inability to move beyond our default selfish state to achieve connection and loving community. If this group of well read and committed followers of Christ couldn’t establish something consistently peculiar and unique then how was a lesser developed group going to manage real community?

Where I have found a great sense of community is in a weekly breakfast I have with a good friend of mine. It is just the two of us but we hit on all of the marks of what Keith Matthews calls an “Incarnational Community.”

We are intensely local, living in the same region of our city. Our meetings are face-to-face and eye-to-eye. We discuss, share, disclose, admit failures, and listen to one another. Though I have some spiritual maturity on him, I learn just as much from him as I hope he does from me. We are intentional about growing and changing in Christ. We don’t see much need to meet if this isn’t happening.

We are just two people. I am not skilled enough or capable enough to transfer what we have to a larger group. That is okay because what we have is special. The rewards have been too great to diminish the fact that we are just two and not a growing, multiplying group.

I pray that you, too, can find that one other person, or a few persons, that bring you community and a sense of unity and depth and growth. If you find it, don’t waste it, that kind of community is hard to find. Thank God for it and work to cultivate the very best out of it.

Don’t Attempt This On Your Own

Each week, I will be providing a glimpse into the 18-month discipleship training program that I have just started. This is a way for me to show you what I am learning and also allow you to progress along with me. For more information, I encourage you to read this. Also, if you like what you are reading, will you consider donating so I can continue with the program and be able to provide more helpful content so we can all reach true Christian maturity.

In this place, I have presented much of the steps for Growing Up as individual endeavors. This is to the detriment of one of the most essential parts of Growing Up – Community.

We have looked at the Triangle of Transformation recently and discussed the Holy Spirit and Soul-Training Exercises but what about Community? What makes Community essential to Growing Up.

First, according to Smith, the Holy Trinity is a grand community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If God is meant to exist in community, then perhaps we could benefit from it as well.


Second, you need others to encourage and inspire you. It is much easier to love when love is already present and it is much easier to do good when others are already striving for good works.

Third, there is built in accountability (peer pressure). Peer pressure can be a positive thing when there is expectations on you to work on change and to try to improve. Individually, I may talk myself out of trying some spiritual exercise that I find difficult but when I know that others will be trying it too, I don’t want to be left out of the discussion and experience.

Do you have a group that is spurring you on? A group that challenges you? A community that inspires you and encourages you?

I have been guilty of being a Lone Ranger Christian but I was missing out on a fuller, richer opportunity for Growing Up.


photo credit: Troika consulting


How to Start A Small Group

Last time I talked about the value of community and small groups. I have started a few small groups over the years and have learned a thing or two. Here are my tips for starting your own small group.

1.Find one other person – No one said that your small group had to be bursting with people. Really, if you find one other person who shares your interest in growing in Christ, you have a small group. All of the value of a small group can still be found with just two people – accountability, someone to bounce ideas off of, and opportunities to learn something new.

2. Start small – Whenever we are heading up something, we often get entrepreneur fever and begin dreaming up scenarios involving curriculum and name tags and websites and statements of confidentiality. This is all fun to do and may be appropriate at times, but your best course of action is simply focusing on the people in front of you, the small goal of meeting consistently, and a simple way of engaging God’s word or his work in our lives.

3. Understand the value – No matter what you are learning, or what insights people are getting from the group the true value of a small group is in the unity and community of the people involved. Friendships that surface, personal struggles that are prayed over, and fun that is developed among the members is what is really meaningful and lasting. Sure, we all want to become more knowledgeable about the Bible and the Christian faith but that shouldn’t be the highest priority in your group. Build trust, community, and togetherness and the rest will follow.

Community Injects Spiritual Growth With Life

Yesterday, I met three other guys at a Starbucks to talk about life, God’s word,

Redesigned logo used from 2011-present.

Redesigned logo used from 2011-present. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

and anything else that popped into our heads. Two of us have had seminary training but one has only been a believer for a short time.

Refreshingly, no debates broke out. No one felt like they had cornered the market on a theological idea. We just discussed scripture, dropped some wacky pop culture references, and enjoyed each others company. There was humility and a realization that God is so much bigger than ourselves.

I was encouraged, inspired, and refreshed from the short time we had together. In the quest for doable spiritual growth, we cannot overlook the power of community.

So much of our church language fails us in this regard. Quiet time, personal devotion, daily Christian walk, etc. All of these terms have such an individualistic tone to them. We have convinced ourselves that to grow spiritually requires our own efforts in isolation and nothing else. We fail to recognize the strength of Christian community, especially small groups.

In community I find encouragement, inspiration, conviction, motivation, and correction. Christ himself had a small community of friends who no doubt shaped his ministry and message in maybe more ways than we would expect.

Finding quality Christian community isn’t always easy and you have to work at it but we need it desperately.

Running The Race: To The Finish

On Dec. 4 I ran in the White Rock Marathon in Dallas. Over the last several weeks, I have provided my observations on the connection between the spiritual life and training to run a marathon. Please visit my White Rock fundraising page to honor my daughter and contribute to a great cause.

The marathon is done and I finished it in a little over five hours. My dad asked me if it was the hardest thing that I have ever done? As I was laying in the passenger seat and loopy from the run and the pain that I was experiencing, I couldn’t think of anything else that was harder. Now, with a few days to reflect, I still can’t think of anything harder but I can think of some important lessons that I learned. These are lessons that are important not just for running a marathon but also making it through any difficult moment in your life.

Lesson #1 – You need help – I would say that about 60 percent of the runners had someone to run with or at least had a someone they knew at the start with them. These people were able to smile and joke and distract each other with mindless conversation. I had trained alone and intended to race alone until I heard about the Clif Pace Team. My dad had encouraged me to find people to run with because he knew that it would make it easier. I had heard good things about the Pace Team so I planned on finding the 5 hour pace team at the start. I was able to meet one of the other runners on the Pace group and just having someone to chat with on occasion during the race was a big help. But I really didn’t learn this lesson until around mile 18. At this point, I started to have cramps in my lower thigh. I didn’t expect this kind of set back with still so much farther to go and I was beginning to stress out. I ran up to my new Pace group friend, who had run in some marathons before. I asked him if he had any advice for leg cramps. A lady who was running with us, heard my comment and was nice enough to give me some of her electrolyte pills. I don’t know if they helped but at a time when everyone was just trying to survive, her service to me was beyond generous.

Don’t expect your spiritual life to make it through difficult times without help from others. No matter how strong you are, there are some things that only other people can bring to you.

Lesson #2  – Endurance Brings Clarity – You would think that running gives one a lot of time to pray and meditate on God. Maybe for some people but just as when I am sitting still, my mind rarely stays focus enough to finish a prayer. I have been on many a run when I have tried to make it through the Lord’s Prayer and lose my train of thought and never finish it. That was not the case at about  mile 21. I was so wasted from the exertion and the pain that I probably said the most cohesive and direct version of the Lord’s Prayer I have ever uttered. Other prayers that I voiced over and over were “Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” and “I am one in whom Christ dwells.” I needed that last one to tap in to some strength and courage that I didn’t think I had.

Lesson #3 – Trust – Along this journey to becoming a marathon finisher, I had recognized God’s role in bringing me along. I had prayed for good health so as not to miss a workout and that was answered. I had seen validation of my quest in people who I met and things that I had heard other’s say. I had received a great pouring out of abundance from people wanting to donate to Scottish Rite in honor of our daughter. I had received unexpected notoriety from a newspaper article that included me in a story about first time runners. God was making these things happen for a reason and I was becoming more and more sure of it as the weeks went by. But then a collection of circumstances began to surface that were very unwelcome.

First, Thursday night, I started to come down with a head cold. My nose was getting very congested and the good health that I had experienced throughout my training was fading. Second, the weather forecast for Sunday was getting bleaker and bleaker by the day. Early in the week it looked like a high in the upper Forties with a 40% chance of rain but by Saturday, the chance of rain had moved to 100% with a high barely reaching 43.  I had only run in rain once in all of my training and that was not when it was 40 degrees. Running a marathon was not something that I had ever done before and then here were these two situations which were a part of my worst case scenario. I reached the point where worrying and fretting wasn’t going to be very productive.

It is in situations like this where God always comes in and reminds me that he can be trusted, that he is who he says he is, and that my only choice is to lean on him. I couldn’t do anything about the weather and how my body was going to hold up under the strain of the marathon was a complete uncertainty. I had to trust God that he had brought me to this point for a reason and that he wasn’t going to leave me alone. The race became less about me and more about God’s work through me. Which is the way it should be. The race taught me to find the place where I should have been all along – in ruthless trust of my savior Jesus Christ.

Making All Things New – Hacked

Henri Nouwen, for all of his scholarship and academic pedigree, was a master at taking aspects of the spiritual life and making them accessible and appealing. I have read his book, The Way of the Heart, many times and his Return of the Prodigal Son is one of my all time favorite books. I have recently completed reading Making All Things New and would highly recommend it as an introduction to the spiritual life and to the use of two important disciplines – solitude and community. I have provided my summary notes below so that you also can draw key insights from this book.

Our Present State

– We all share the same human condition

– Resignation of our spiritual state keeps us from growing

– Our occupations and preoccupations fill our external and internal lives to the brim and leave no room for God

Setting Our Hearts On the Kingdom of God

– A heart set on the Kingdom of God is a heart set on the spiritual life

– Jesus was concerned with one thing: to do the will of his father

– Everything that belongs to Jesus is given for us to receive. John 15:15

– Kingdom of God = rich variety of ways in which God makes his presence known to us

– In the Kingdom, everything is a gift or challenge that strengthens and deepens our new life.

– Hearts set on the kingdom = worries will slowly move to the background

Spiritual Disciplines

– Spiritual Disciplines allow us to become attentive to the voice of God and respond to it

– God constantly speaks but we seldom hear it.


– If God is who he says he is then he deserves our undivided attention

– We often use our outer distractions to shield us from interior noises

– We do not take the spiritual life seriously if we do not set aside time to be with God and listen to him.

– A day without solitude is less spiritual than a day with it.

– To fight distractions, use scripture as a way to focus.

– Solitude= living active lives in the world while remaining always in the presence of God


– True community – always reveals to us who we are before God.

– Community is obedience practiced together


– Through solitude and community we try to remove the many obstacles which prevent us from listening to God’s voice.

– Spiritual Life – active presence of God’s Spirit in the midst of a worry filled existence

– If we are faithful to our disciplines, a new hunger will make itself known. First, we will start to recognize God’s presence. Then we will be led deeper into the Kingdom of God. Finally, all thing will begin to be made new.

Apprenticeship With Jesus: Day 19

For Lent, I am walking us through a book called Apprenticeship With Jesus. You can follow along by reading my highlights and reflections. Extensive previews of the book, including excerpts, can be found through Google Books and Amazon, as well as eBook purchasing options.

Day 19: Celebration at Fat Matt’s: Becoming Lost in Union

–  Becoming lost in unity with others and with something bigger than ourselves can produce a joyous celebration

Some people view union with God as something unattainable but I have always struggled more with unity within community. Some of my most cherished times have been connecting with others in the presence of God, but normally this connection seems always out of reach. I take just about everything I do seriously, especially when it comes to spiritual matters, and I am put off when others are not as serious as me in these matters. I know that this is childish but it often keeps me from relating to others because I get a sense that they are not on the same page as me. So, I get easily frustrated and often refuse to make the effort to bond with other believers.

Apprentice Activity: Playing In Unity and Celebration

–  Think of something that you would like to take the lead doing but have put it off because of fear

–   Let it be something that would involve a movement toward unity

– Ponder verse 5 of Colossians 3:1-17 –  5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

As the summer approaches, our two older girls are starting to ask what our plans are for their time off from school. I dread the constant “Can we do this…, can we do that..” questions and the pressure they put on me to come up with something great that they all will enjoy. I also dread whether I am going to have the energy and the emotional investment to make their activities as fulfilling as possible. But this activity is challenging me to take the lead on planning their activities in order to bring unity and connection within our family.

What is Jesus teaching me? As much as I enjoy being a lone ranger Christian and doing all of these spiritual activities on my own, I know that I am missing an element of my spiritual growth by avoiding the community aspect of my faith. Thankfully, God has placed some groups in my life that have been meaningful and helpful for my spiritual growth. One in particular, a men’s small group at work, has been essential in teaching me that guys can talk about spiritual issues and support and encourage one another in meaningful and authentic ways.

Are you missing the community element to your faith? Do you need to step out and join a group to help grow your faith? Do you need to start a group?