I just finished reading Mark Labberton’s new book Called. It is a wonderfully thoughtful and pastoral exhortation to live life in such a way as to be the gospel in an embodied way. I highly recommend it.
As I was reading it, I began thinking about the ways I do and do not live into that calling. My thoughts drifted to my church, and to my service there (and by service, I do not mean to imply that I am in charge. I simply serve there–in a volunteer capacity). My thinking turned to reflection, and I remembered a series of events from the previous year that led me to question my involvement in that community.
Now, before you get the wrong idea, I’m not going to get into any sort of detail regarding those events. I am instead going to offer the insights I gained from some of those events: what it means to belong to a community and to serve there.
I have written before about using your voice in service, and I do not want to retread too much on that topic, but as I’ve moved further from the time I wrote that post one thing in particular has come into sharper focus as the days have passed. That thing is humility wrapped up in confidence tied in with honesty.
Speaking your mind is a hard thing to do, especially in a big group of people who are driven and determined to accomplish something. It gets even harder when the opinion you are giving voice to is one of dissent from the prevailing attitude. This is most often because we are afraid of being alienated or labelled as “party poopers.” Nobody wants the reputation of being the one who upset the jovial onrush of energy or action.
But it is important to do for two reasons. The first is obvious, and that is that it may be what others need to hear. You may have the right insight for the situation and can help steer the ship in a more healthy direction. But the second is not so obvious, at least, not at first.
The second reason is that sharing your perspective allows other people to have a glimpse into your world. It allows you to be known. This being known is the first step to being held accountable. If you truly want to grow in faith and community, you need other people to know who you are and to speak into your life when you need it.
This is the part that we really don’t want, but at some level recognize that we need. And this is the challenge of being a part of a faith community. If we want to grow in our faith, and in turn participate in others growth, we need to be a part of the action. We need to voice our agreements and our disagreements–not with the purpose of getting our way (although that is a hard purpose to avoid) but with the purpose of being known and convicted if we are wrong.
And that means opening your life up to others.
There is always a down side, though. Not everyone takes this approach, and still fewer are able to recognize it and reciprocate when it is enacted. There are few things more disheartening than taking this step, voicing your opinion coupled with an invitation for others to speak to your position and identify sinful attitudes in your life, and have the response be exclusion and silence.
But that too shall pass. Keep at it. Keep voicing your opinion. Keep asking for input and accountability. Make it known that you truly want to grow, and to be a part of a community that is growing, too. Don’t disconnect, keep connecting and engaging. Eventually there will be a response–maybe a negative one–but that will at least give you something to go on. And even then don’t give up! Growth is sometimes painful, but necessary. Be ready to forgive and receive forgiveness.
And if the situation becomes evidently toxic, be ready to move on. Sometimes communities are not a fit for everyone, and there will be another community where you will fit. But don’t make that move until you’ve tried everything to get connected and stay that way.