Prepare for Difficulty + Discomfort

Josh Shepherd (QuadW Kansas City site director) continues part 3 his conversation on living in Christian Community (see part 1 here) (see part 2 here)

One of these days, I’m going to get to the bottom of when exactly we started using the word “community” to describe just about any group of people, gathered (or not gathered) for whatever purpose, with whatever manner or quality of relationship. I regularly visit a forum for one my favorite video games, and there are frequent posts bemoaning the state of the “Madden Community”. This, despite the fact that the only thing uniting us is that we happen to enjoy a decent simulation of NFL football games in our spare time. We have perhaps nothing else in common, and certainly no unity.

What is going on when a word’s usage multiplies rapidly and exponentially while its corresponding reality proportionately disappears? In the U.S., we say “community” all the time and almost never live it. Maybe this isn’t all bad. Maybe there’s something hopeful here. I’ve heard that prisoners of war, when they are starving, talk endlessly of food.

But, even then, they’d know a hamburger if they saw one. My concern is that in losing the ability to talk meaningfully about community we’re losing the ability to know what it takes to build one. In The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace, M. Scott Peck says there are 4 stages of community formation. These are “pseudocommunity”, “chaos”, “emptiness”, and then, hopefully, “community”. I have a hunch that much of what we are calling “community” is actually “pseudocommunity”, which Peck describes as follows.

“The first response of a group in seeking to form a community is most often to try to fake it. The members attempt to be an instant community by being extremely pleasant with one another and avoiding all disagreement. This attempt — this pretense of community — is what I term ‘pseudocommunity.' It never works.

In pseudocommunity a group attempt to purchase community cheaply by pretense. It is not an evil, conscious process of deliberate black lies. Rather, it is an unconscious, gentle process whereby people who want to be loving attempt to be so by telling little while lies, by withholding some of the truth about themselves and their feelings in order to avoid conflict. But it is still a pretense. It is an inviting but illegitimate shortcut to nowhere.”

Therefore “pseudocommunity” is easy, light, and fun. It’s the "honeymoon period”. Mistaking pseudocommunity for true community is like thinking the honeymoon is the whole marriage. It’s not just ridiculously devaluing the real thing, but preparing you for disaster when things get difficult. And in our effort to build Christian community, things do get difficult. There’s an inherent radical discomfort. I don’t think I have to elaborate much on Peck’s second and third stages for you to get a foretaste. Chaos and emptiness are no honeymoon, but they are necessary.

This is because the point of community is not for you to get some community in your life, but for you to be better and ultimately for the whole community to be better. As Christians, we believe this kind of community can ultimately display the love of Christ in a way no individual can achieve. But this does not happen without discomfort, because there is no growth without discomfort. It is only in knowing what community means and why we are working to build one in the first place that any one of us will ever persevere through the early discomfort.


And since I am writing here about short-term intentional communities, there’s a very real chance that in the course of 8 weeks, your group will go no further than chaos or emptiness. If all you’ve ever known are forms of pseudocommunity, and persist in mistaking them for actual community, you’ll think you’ve gone backwards, when in fact the journey into chaos and emptiness are advances. You might think you’ve wasted your summer, when there was a chance for you to have learned some rare and valuable lessons about yourself, about others, and about God.