Formation | Community | Culture

The Challenge of Community

Life moves so fast.

Our oldest son Joseph starts Kindergarten next Wednesday, and my friend Tim, whose kids are grown and out of the house, said, “Get ready; life’s about to start really moving fast.” Seriously? I can’t even remember July, and it’s going to go faster?

Our lives move quickly, and we find ourselves saying things like, “I’m so busy,” and “Life’s just crazy right now.” And often we fall into the trap that “It’s just a busy season.”

It’s a symptom of our culture, in part. I’ve found myself reading a good bit on sociology in the past year, and apparently it hasn’t always been this way.

Relational Circles

In former generations, people used to belong to a few circles of people: family was one circle, work was another circle, church was another circle. In all, a person had five or six total circles, and there was a good deal of overlap between them—maybe 100-200 individuals and all within walking distance.

But today, just think of the circles we manage:

Family in town

Extended family out of town

Work (which is really several circles because we serve on different teams and sit on different committees)

Church (which is often several circles as well)

Neighbors

Old high school friends

College friends

Former co-workers

Our hobby circles (golfing buddies, etc)

Kids (really, you can add 2-3 circles per child—school classes, sports teams, the Y, library reading clubs, etc)

Social media (one big meaningless circle!)

And there’s very little overlap—each circle is a disconnected grouping of people with just one or two things in common.

Whereas former generations managed four to six interconnected circles, the average suburban individual now manages 40-50 disconnected circles, often managing relationships with 1,000-2,000 individuals. How could we possibly go deep with this many people, across this many circles, and how could we possibly feel like our life is simple and integrated?

Side note: in his great book Making Room for Life, author Randy Frazee points to our culture’s obsession with youth sports as a primary killer of adults’ free time. I love sports as much as anyone; remember, I founded the dopest sports and culture site in history. But he’s right; it’s crazy. In Louisville, organized soccer begins at age three. Age three! How many of these kids are even out of diapers!? Three years old. Open up the back door, throw out a ball, and check back in a half hour!

It’s not just that we’re busy (though we are). The issue is that our lives are increasingly superficial. They’re surfacey, shallow. Our culture is “an inch deep and a mile wide.”

Given that this is the culture we live in, and that we have all this busyness and superficiality expected of us, how can we possibly build and enjoy life-giving community? Is it even possible? Given the cost, is it worth it?

Close Relationships

My thesis, and the reason for a new series of articles on community and the re-launch of this site as Christ & Community, is that we were created for community and that human flourishing is found only in tight, Christ-shaped relationships.

I often think about it like this: No one gets to the end of their life and wishes they had a few dozen more superficial relationships. No one wishes that they had served on one more board or spent an extra 100 hours in the car eating fast food and shuttling toddlers to organized soccer practices. Absolutely no one gets to the end of their life and says, “I should have just mindlessly plowed through more days and months and years.”

No, it’s always: “I wish I had invested more quality time in the people closest to me: my spouse, my friends, my kids.”

This thesis—and it’s deeply biblical—is that one of the most important ways we can live meaningful and counter-cultural lives in this culture is by simplifying and centering our lives. It’s better to have deep relationships with a few, than superficial relationships with a thousand.

Over the next few weeks and months, I’ll add some new writing (and some writing adapted from my Sojourn teaching and training) on the biblical foundations, personal importance, and missional significance of deep Christ-formed community.

It should be fun.

JSL

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