Abraham Piper interviewed Paul Tripp over at Desiring God. Paul was asked, “What is the greatest hinderance to cultivating community in the American church?” Here is some of Paul’s answer:So my thought is how do we participate more in our small group? Are we so busy in our lives that we forget to share our struggles, passions, love of the Savior, confessions, problems, praises, etc. with each other?“The first thing that comes to mind is frenetic western-culture busyness.
I read a book on stress a few years back, and the author made a side comment that I thought was so insightful. He said that the highest value of materialistic western culture is not possessing. It’s actually acquiring.
If you’re a go-getter you never stop. And so the guy who is lavishly successful doesn’t quit, because there are greater levels of success. “My house could be bigger, I could drive better cars, I could have more power, I could have more money.”
And so we’ve bought an unbiblical definition of the good life of success. Our kids have to be skilled at three sports and play four musical instruments, and our house has to be lavish by whatever standard. And all of that stuff is eating time, eating energy, eating money. And it doesn’t promote community.
I think often that even the programs of a local church are too sectored and too busy. As if we’re trying to program godliness. And so the family is actually never together because they’re all in demographic groupings. Where do we have time where we are pursuing relationships with one another, living with one another, praying with one another, talking with one another?”
I wish that Paul would have specifically defined the word, “community.” I think the community that he and Piper are speaking about is almost a sort of bygone tradition. It’s the kind of community with face-to-face interaction, family meals around the dinner table, and quiet time spent in the presence of others. Our culture might define “community” as Facebook, blogging, e-mail, and 3-mintue cell phone conversations while driving in the car. We’ve become very adept at creating the illusion of community.
Paul continues…“I’ve talked to a lot of families who literally think it’s a victory to have 3 or 4 meals all together with one another in a week, because they’re so busy. Well, if in that family unit they’re not experiencing community, there’s no hope of them experiencing it outside of that family unit.
You can’t fit God’s dream (if I can use that language) for his church inside of the American dream and have it work. It’s a radically different lifestyle. It just won’t squeeze into the available spaces of the time and energy that’s left over.”
One thing I’ve been learning more about in the past few months (aside from my “broken record” about living out of a posture of desperation) is that I have limitations. I am a human being, and by nature, I must conduct life within a certain set of physical limitations. I have a limited amount of energy. I have a limited amount of material resources. I have a limited amount of time. And I have a limited amount of power. That last one is hard to admit. I don’t think our secular culture would agree. “They” would say (and have said, many times): “You create your own destiny. You can do anything, if you put your mind to it.” But I’m not buying it.
It seems that the voices around us tell us over and over, “You’re here to be productive. You’re only worth something unless you’re producing.” And productive people have to be busy people, right?
Paul concludes…“So we’ve just been confronted with how all of those things that aren’t evil in themselves become the complications of life that keep us away from the kind of community that we need in order to hold on to our identity.”
It’s ironic that I try to find my identity apart from my intended design. I was designed, by God, to live in relationship. I wasn’t called or destined to create an identity for myself, based on what I do. My identity is based on who I am: a child of God, and a member of God’s family.
Let us pursue each other by pursuing Christ above all.