Jesus People USA is a community… and a ministry. We live together so that we can minister more effectively, yet our lives together are about more than ministry. Sometimes, I’m nervous when people talk about our shared lives as if we do this only for pragmatic reasons. There is more than pragmatism involved for me. I find community to be a romance of sorts. An intentional family, made up of people whose vision of the world and their part in it is shared.
Sure, romance gets tempered by reality. Like the Catholic writer and cofounder of L’Arche Communities, Jean Vanier, says, “Isn’t community terrible?” Hehehehe… yes, indeed. The noble motives and grand, emotion-driven inspiration can run a little dry after the third hour of doing communal dishes, or the second day of a fellow communard’s personality flaws. Imagine such things after decades! It is no wonder that community life is something many begin and few continue in. Of course, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with leaving Jesus People or any other intentional Christian community. It is all a matter of personal conviction regarding God’s calling. Is this my life call?
Some never ask that question. A few Christian books even suggest that it is a foolish question to ask, since the Bible gives us all the basic information about “call” we need. “Just obey the biblical standards and do whatever you feel is right,” seems to be the punchline of such pundits.
For me, that feels wrong. Christianity is either about intensely personal relationship to God, or about nothing. Sure, it isn’t only about personal relationship. But if I don’t believe I’m moment by moment walking with Jesus next to me (fancy theological concept: immanence), then how am I that different from someone who thinks that God, like Elvis, created something and then “left the building”?
No, Jesus called me. I believe that. And he called me to live here, among these people, in inner-city Chicago. I have to put up with them, all their imperfections and darknesses and failures. And worse, I have to let them put up with me and my personal angst, mess, sin, and double-mindedness. It is a terrible thing, this communal shared life. But it is also wonderful. I am called to love and be loved, to encounter Jesus in the faces and voices and words and deeds of my fellow Christians.
Community at the end of things is about transparency. I am called to become vulnerable to my friends in Jesus. And by so doing, I share in them the community life. I also minister and am ministered to, enabled to reach even beyond our community to others. And so community and ministry end up being, like Jesus’ garment at the cross, without any seams. They are one, mutually reliant on each other and interwoven with each other. Like my sisters and brothers in Christ, with whom I am interwoven, we are individuals, yet a single body, even one expression of Jesus’ Body.