This is Emmett. He’s the funny little guy from the Lego Movie. My kids love him. He’s not a special. He’s not a master builder. He’s beyond ordinary. He’s kind of a nobody.
Emmett knows many people but is actually known by very few.
I wonder how much this idea resonates with us. Perhaps we have dipped our toes in some form of community before and got burnt. Maybe we are tired of never quite fitting in. Then again, maybe we have found ‘our people’ and the word community genuinely excites us.
I’ve been around churches and youth groups and local towns long enough to get involved in a smorgasbord of community efforts. And no doubt this community thing is to be experienced in many ways.
Small groups. Homegroups.
Prayer partners. Prayer triplets.
Book clubs, gyms and running clubs.
‘New mum’ clubs.
Breakfast, lunch and supper clubs.
I found a lot of these experiences to be very positive and yet in many incidences, I remained a little like Emmet. Known by a lot of people, but not ever really known or even valued and understood. I’m not sure how much I actually experienced true change and growth.
It was no-ones fault. I probably approached it all wrong. Looking for people to fix me and fill a void. And I’ll admit I have a tendency to resist vulnerability. Who doesn’t?
Sometimes I gave up too quickly. Someone ruffled my feathers and I left out the back door. Someone looked at me weird and it was game over.
Parenthood impacted how I viewed community. As in, it made me feel like I couldn’t be part of one. It didn’t seem right to invite people over for turkey dinosaurs and alphabetties. I couldn’t seem to make any of the gatherings. I struggled to fit in when all I could think about was if my baby was sleeping for the babysitter. So I opted out. I just hung around the sidelines and the fringes. Known by many and yet known by very few.
For a while I was scared by the buzz words that seem to surround building community – words like authentic, leadership, growth, innovation, strategy, vision – they all put me off. I thought, I don’t know enough about this stuff. I’m not a master builder. I’m an introvert. I like books. I don’t have what it takes to build community. The skills required. The knowledge. The background. The training. The time. The experience.
Despite all that I lack I do genuinely love people. I do carry a deep desire to connect, to listen, to share life in whatever means possible. I do believe God is on me and in me and with me and it is quite possible for the Kingdom to invade my galley kitchen.
And I wonder if community is actually this great big buzz word we have made it. Is bigger just generally perceived as better? Does significant have to mean noticeable? Probably.
Culture has taught me to chase these things and manipulate any sense of community I might discover into something more, something ‘major’ with a brand or a title, something with a start time of 7.30pm and a decent programme, a strategy and a cool venue.
Is this why I end up believing a large group of people with new members is indicative of success, but somehow the change in my sweet neighbour’s life is not even noteworthy? Perhaps.
Over time I seem to have accepted the idea that community is a few big gatherings to miss rather than a few ordinary lives to share.
A soul can be saved but it will take softness and depth and space. The world will not help much. John Ortberg.
It seems all along my soul is just longing for some depth. But the culture I live in says this;
Don’t stop to think, just buy more and do more, the faster the better.
Slot community in when you can – share the links, but not your life.
Don’t overthink how little you belong anywhere. Parenthood has taken that away from you. But you fit in just fine on Instagram.
Heck, you don’t have time for any of this community lark. You barely have time to put the bin out. Your life is about Calpol and Cbeebies, not community.
No one wants to see or hear what you have to say. You are no good to anyone. You are too much.
Post another photo of your cute tablecloth and continue to survive.
And I believe it all. I believe community is out of reach for me. I believe I can’t build anything of worth or significance. I believe small is for the underachiever. I believe I’m not like those others leaders – the ones who get it done.
And I am wrong.
Ordinary faithfulness is the stuff of miracles.
Could ordinary faithfulness be at the centre of building true community?
Because if so, then I need to remain faithful to the deep desire in me to get to know others better in the most simple, small and ordinary ways I can imagine.
I need to learn how to make room for a few and begin to share a life together. I need to learn how starting with what is tangible (our homes, our food, our belongings) often leads to sharing that which is kept hidden (our frustrations, our hurts, our beliefs and our weaknesses).
I think it’s quite possible to just ditch the step by step plan, the name, the twitter handle and the 7.30pm start and just make a sincere promise to show up. In countless ways we could learn to make ourselves available, a presence that reliably shows up in each other’s lives.
What if my only agenda was to bring the Kingdom a little closer? What if it looked like a phonecall, a text to say I’m holding space for your kid today, an offer to walk to the park, an invite to pray in my kitchen? What if in order to make community a reality I have to do the same small ordinary things again and again and again? Can I do this?
I recognise the urge to rush it, define it, organise it and manipulate it into something I feel would be bigger and more significant. I resist that. I’m honest about a hope for future commitment and sacrifice but really, I just begin with love and invitation, genuine care and welcome.
Sharing lives with a few has taught me that hospitality is not so much fluffing up the cushions and baking a cake as it is opening the front door and saying ‘How are you? Come on in.’ I have discovered the gift is not actually found in my tidy house but in paying attention and providing a space to belong to each other, for however long it’s needed.
Because the truth is- it’s not about having answers but rather walking together as we ask the questions. It’s about softness and space and depth.
And let’s agree that usually something powerful takes place when we genuinely ask, ‘What’s your story?’ Because it’s rarely the one on Instagram or Facebook. When we begin to sift the perfectly uploaded images from reality it feels really good.
Perhaps it is only then that we can pull each other into hope and redemption.
Ordinary faithfulness is the stuff of miracles.
What if a beautifully changed heart was the indicator of growth we chased?
What if we swam upstream and let go of the big and the noticeable?
What if we were okay with remaining under the radar? What if small and slow and unknown became marvellous? What if it gave way to a sense of belonging that allowed true change and growth to become a reality in our lives?
And I wonder then, as we faithfully shared in something very ordinary with a few, would we crazily begin to feel part of something bigger with many?
Would building community and finding a sense of belonging be something you and I and everyone showed up for and became excited about?
I’ve been reading a lot of Brene Brown recently. In fact, I am a little bit in love with her. She says it’s not so much what we know but who we are that counts. And that being rather than knowing requires that we show up and let ourselves be seen. I think then, that building community might be something all of us can be a part of, not because of what we know or what we do but just because of who we are – not master builders or specials, not even experts or innovatives, just ordinary people who need other ordinary people to faithfully show up for them in the most ordinary ways.
Perhaps that is the stuff of miracles.