I think committed Christian communities – new monastics, house churches, emerging churches and other variations – are the most exciting thing happening for the kingdom of God at the moment. But today I was struck afresh by our main failing: unfriendliness. I’m not talking about something new, but it needs thinking about.
There’s this balancing act between openness to others and maintaining the body life that is so central to committed Christian community. I think it’s fine to have a ‘high bar’ to get in. That is, it’s good for membership to mean something, for the path to be as narrow as the kingdom path should be.
But I’m talking about a love of the other, and of a sensitivity to people outside the group. Friendliness, basically. The lesson I’m learning is: don’t get so caught up with yourselves that you stop looking outward. You can have high expectations of members and still be friendly.
Part of what I’m talking about is the sense that in so many committed Christian communities, our door doesn’t seem very open. Not even to people who feel similarly and would like to join or find out more. As we go deeper into community, we mustn’t leave out people who could be members or friends. (Part of the struggle for those of us in these communities is we’re so used to being rejected or treated with disinterest by others that we stop being open.)
It’s not a problem restricted to small committed Christian communities, of course. In so many different contexts I see this failure to seek out the people on the outer in social situations. And I don’t just mean the people obvious to radical Christianity – I don’t just mean immigrants or Aboriginal Australians or disabled people. I mean just as much the shy or lonely white middle class people who don’t have much radical glamour.
I suspect that part of what the church needs to recover is the gift of hospitality. I want to do some more reading on this, but I believe hospitality is crucial to healthy Christian community. I know one couple who’s table fellowship touched many people’s lives and was at the centre of what was, for at time, a wonderful house church.