Spiritual community

I’ve been reading Ruth Haley Barton again.  I love her writing so much!  This chapter from ‘Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership’ which I’ve been reading relates to moving from isolation to community as a leader.

Whereas team centres around a task and disbands after that task’s completion, Haley Barton suggests that spiritual community is much more permanent because it gathers around a Person.  Quoting Bonhoeffer, she also remarks that spiritual community already exists as a reality in Christ.  We do not create what she calls ‘leadership community’.  Rather ‘we are invited to participate – to find ways to live into – this great reality called spiritual community’.

I love this because I think that I have read too much Christian exhortation to find or build your ‘kingdom dream team’.  I’m naming no names here(!); indeed, I have read that from more than one source…  Conversely, Haley Barton says that if we ‘think that it is somehow our responsibility to create community, then the burden will surely be more than we can bear’.

I relate to this.  Community cannot be created.  And, of course, it is already an ontological reality: in Christ, the saints are one body.  So the effort is not only too great for us but also, to a certain extent, pointless.  It has been done in Christ!

But even within the objective reality which is the community of the saints, I think that subjectively we experience different levels of community connection.  And that connection is what leaders long for.  Someone who wants the leader for who they are, not what the leader can do for them.  Someone who can hear the rubbish which sometimes overflows from my soul and somehow manage to correct me and to love me and feel my pain at the same time.

But how do leaders find this kind of leadership community?  Because, as I said, I’m convinced you can’t just wake up one morning and decide to make it happen!

As I’ve wondered about this, I’ve come to realise that all I can do is to open myself to that level of community, that level of knowing and being known by other believers.  All I can do is something which is a serious struggle for an introvert such as me – namely, to put myself out there and let others in.

And I’m finding that sometimes you can have done that with someone and see no immediate connection between you.  Yet when you have given up on finding deep community with that person, God comes along and makes you both conscious of a community between you that was not of your own creating!

I long for a greater experience of leadership community.  I know that my default is to hide, to lose myself in being useful to others, rarely to face the loneliness within.  Now, I think that such an admission suggests that I have come quite a long way for an introvert who has often been labelled independent and self-possessed!  I’m still looking to take hold of a greater experience of it though.

But what about you?  Where are you on the journey towards a deeper experience of the community in Christ which the Spirit creates?  Do you need to become more vulnerable within the context of a safe community who will love you enough both to correct and comfort you…a community who will let you be who you really are, rather than who you appear to be?

And, because this might speak to a few, I’ll even question whether some of us need to stop hiding behind the mask of pastor or theologian and start letting others into our brokenness?


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