Saturday, November 6, 2010

Life Undivided: How to Kill Community

Sick of church? Tired of spending all your energy sustaining your friendships? Eager for mischief of a diabolical kind? If so, this post is for you.
Based on nearly twenty-seven years of experience, I bring to you an authoritative (albeit abridged) guide to killing a church,  community, or friendship.  If you follow these instructions carefully, you might manage all three at once. 
In case you are beginning to wonder if grad school has finally broken my sanity, perhaps I should explain myself. A few weeks ago, I wrote about my church lifegroup, and how important that group was to me.  However, in the draft of that post, there was a paragraph which I cut from the final version.  That paragraph began, “Eventually, however, my lifegroup died.”  I excised this section because its narrative of a more or less quiet dissolution interfered with the tone (love! victory! Jesus!) of that post. However, after talking with a friend, I realized it would be dishonest not to address the fact that even my precious lifegroup failed in many ways to be a home for all its members, and, eventually, failed to sustain itself as a group at all.
I am not, however, going to tell the story of my lifegroup’s failures here. It would serve no good purpose, and could veer toward finger-pointing and gossip.  If you have ever been part of a church or relationship, you could probably imagine a version that is fairly close to the truth.  
Instead, I have made a list of ways to kill community. Not all of these things happened in my lifegroup, but some of them did, and I’ve witnessed all of them in various gatherings and kinships. At the same time, bitterness is unbecoming, and my point is not to air grievances, but to look honestly at these failures so that we can learn to confront and avoid them. Through this blog I want to learn--with you--how we can form communities in which we help one another become fully human: at home with God, one another, and ourselves. Today, because I am feeling rather contrary, I am approaching this quest through the back door. As you read, please know that at one time or another, I have been guilty of everything on this list. I ask you to read it as a confession, not a rant. 

1. Don’t pray. Prayer is old-fashioned, you’re not sure if it works, and it makes others uncomfortable.
2. Assume that people know you appreciate them. Don’t call to tell them, and never send thank-you notes for the work they do for your church or group.
3. Worship the Bible as the Word of God. Interpret it strictly, literally, and rigidly, OR dismiss the Bible as an unreliable set of semi-historical documents, ethically problematic and historically suspect.
4. Mistake yourself for God OR mistake your pastor/leader/friend for God. 
5. Judge others OR never venture to challenge others on the things they say and do. 
6. Make decisions regarding this church/group/friendship by asking “What is best/most satisfying/healthiest for me?”
7. Be passive aggressive. This can be fun. Look for little ways to undermine the ideas, plans, or programs of others: roll your eyes, sigh, and post pseudo-cryptic status updates on facebook. In all things, be smug. 
8. Look down on people who doubt. If you’d rather, you can also look down on people who never “question their faith.”
9. Don’t laugh. Ever. 
10. Don’t talk openly about hard things, like tithing. 
11. Don’t eat together. 
12. Don’t do any hands-on ministry together. 
13. Don’t ask each other questions. 
14. Don’t sing. If you forget and do begin to sing, make sure to argue about the style of songs afterward. 
15. Fade away quietly. Don’t return calls, and come up with excuses not to come. 
16. Decide you can do this whole “Christian” thing, and probably this whole “life” thing, on your own. 

What would you add to this list? 


  1. This is great, Bethany. So true. I may share this with our SS class. You should consider sending this to Jon Acuff of Stuff Christians Like. He occasionally has guest bloggers and I think you'd be a great addition.

  2. Number 7 covers a lot. I would add:
    1. If you feel angry, or if you're experiencing any kind of negative emotion, refuse to own it. Instead, use the word "concerned" and talk to people who you know are likely to agree with you.
    2. Emphasize "confidentiality," when what you really mean is secrecy.
    3. Listen endlessly to other "concerned" people so that you can contribute to later discussions by saying "someone came to me and said..." or "people I'VE talked to think..."
    4. If you're on a committee, or part of any decision-making group, go along with the ones you see as the eventual winners, or as having the most power. Later express your regret that there was nothing else you could do.

  3. Thanks Bethany. This spoke to me as I am guilty of a couple of those things you mentioned! You're absolutely right and these things do need to be said. Too many of us hide behind our Mr./Ms. Nice Happy Christian facade and don't address the truth....Jesus said in John 8:32 that knowing the truth would set us free. Doesn't mean the truth is always nice to hear or that it makes things easier in the beginning, but it is always the first step in the right direction to resolution and eventually it does bring freedom.

    I might recommend this blog post on my page if that's ok!

  4. Thanks Bethany. This is great, and very wise. I've been thinking that in addition to this, that while life groups can sustain community, they also have the unintended effect of actually pulling people away from the church, by subbing in small group for the larger body whom we have less in common with....

  5. Bethany, :) You know my thoughts on this. Love you!

    Myles - I would say that your definition of church leads to your view of a possible downfall of life groups. I think, as long as someone is actively and committedly plugged in to the body of Christ, in some way or form,, they are, in fact, intimately plugged into the Church...if not plugged into the religious organization from which the life group was formed...

    And I would submit that Jesus never encouraged us to pledge allegiance to a religious organization but to His Church, which is each other.

  6. Thanks for your comments, everyone. Beneath my questions about both lifegroups and churches, I have many more questions about the kinds of commitments we make to a body of other believers: for example, if I have come forward to be a member of a church, as we do in Baptist churches, I recognize that as a covenant between the individual, the organized body of Christians in that place, and God. At the same time, I know that many (even within Baptist circles) would question the degree of importance I place on membership, and other denominations have entirely different concepts of belonging and commitment.

    I'm still puzzling out what the Bible seems to say about all this.

    Oh, and Ann, my mother especially liked your comment about euphemizing anger as "concern."

  7. I'd also add this one:

    When you become angry at someone, do not talk to that person directly about it. But do drop regular hints about your displeasure in conversation with others.

  8. 3, so many times.

    Also, make sure to discuss differences in taste (music, films, books, art, etc.) and subtly ridicule those who don't agree with yours.

    If there's someone in the group you don't like, just reschedule the group at a time when he (and only he) can't make it.

    And don't forget to disguise gossip by calling it a prayer request!