devozine

For Youth Workers Post

AUTHENTIC COMMUNITY

Sally Chambers

“In the Habit” session for use with devozine meditations for April 6–12, 2015.

MAKING THE CONNECTION

“The argument could be made that authentic community is at the heart of the gospel. Some scholars describe the early church as a new family. Community is what every adolescent is searching for. Yet in this day and age, believing that we have to perform, to behave, or to earn our way into community is common. However, the kingdom of God is given not earned. Communities trying to bring the kingdom of God alive here on earth should follow God’s example.

“I was one of those adolescents and young adults who got caught up in the model of Christian community that requires its members to believe or to behave in order to belong. Who knows where the lines got crossed, but uncrossing them was not easy. I wish no one else struggled as I did, but they do. So the topic of authentic community is especially important, especially for teenagers.” —Sally

MEET THE WRITER

Sally's CommunitySally Chambers has been practicing youth ministry for nineteen years as part of her life with God and people; she is currently on sabbatical. By trade, she is a counselor and spiritual director. She is also a lover of art, photography, people, hosting, adventure, stories, a cup of tea, beauty, all things English, her niece and her Grandma, abbey ruins and cathedrals, creation in its grandeur and wildness, playlists, and her furry four-legged companion Doodlebug. Sally is a co-author of the leader’s guide to The Way of Pilgrimage and the creator of The Pilgrim’s Way, an approach to leading pilgrimage with teenagers and adults. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is currently on staff and worshiping with St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church. She dreams of creating altars in the world where pilgrims may gather together, rest for a while, find renewed vision, be healed in body, heart, soul, and mind, and offer to the world the hope of God in Jesus Christ. Enjoy the photo of Sally and some of her people — and be sure to check out Sally’s blog.

STUFF YOU WILL NEED

  • a candle and lighter
  • pens
  • scrap paper
  • newsprint and markers
  • copies of scripture passages from The Message
  • Print-Friendly Version of this session

PLUGGED IN

  • Check out how a new monastic community in the north of England defines authentic community. Those who are part of the community take vows to live by a common rule of life, a rule of availability and vulnerability.

CHECKING IN

Invite the group to say responsively:
       “The Lord be with you.”
       “And also with you.”
Then have someone light the candle.

Invite group members to close their eyes, to take a deep breath, and to relax. Invite them to pay attention to their breathing. Suggest that as they exhale, they imagine breathing out the distractions that occupy space in their mind, body, and spirit. Suggest that as they inhale, they imagine breathing in the peace of God. Encourage them to repeat this way of breathing for a minute or two in the quiet.

Ask each person in turn to say his or her name and to answer this question:
       If you had to bare your soul with one other person, whom would you choose and where would you go? Both the person and the place may be real or fictional.

Then ask each person to write on a sheet of scrap paper an answer to this question:
       Who are your people?

Invite group members to name the people they have identified as their people. Then ask:
       What does it mean to have people?
       How did you decide who your people are?

Record on newsprint the group’s responses to this question:
       What defines our people?

Then say something like this:Since the time of Abraham and Sarah, God has talked about having a people—not individuals but a people, a community. The Bible tells the story of God and God’s people. The Ten Commandments are like vows the people of God make to one another and to God to live well together as a people. Today we are going to talk about what it means to be a people, to be a community. To do this we are going to fast-forward from the Old Testament a little bit and look at the first communities of Christians.”

EXPLORING THE WORD

Scripture: Acts 2:42–47, Acts 4:32–35, Colossians 3:12–17, Galatians 5:22–26

Distribute copies of each of the scripture passages above from The Message. Then say: “Each of these four texts describes what it means live as a people, as God’s people, as an authentic community.”

Ask group members to work with partners, to read through each text, and to make a list of how each text describes an authentic community. Encourage them to try to answer this question, in their own words:
       What behaviors do people who are part of an authentic community practice?

Post another sheet of newsprint next to the one on which the group listed their ideas about what defines “our people.” Invite partners to report what they have discovered in the passages, and record their responses on this sheet of newsprint. Make sure that these descriptors of authentic Christian community are included in your conversation: People are committed to the group and the group’s way of life and the teachings of Jesus. Community members share meals, pray together, hold possessions in common, pool their resources, sell what they don’t need, and make sure everyone had enough. They worship together. They are compassionate, kind, humble, strong, disciplined, even-tempered, content, forgiving, loving, in tune with one another. They don’t do their own thing but work for the common good. They are thankful. They use common sense. They are excited about life and live in peace. They are loyal, wise, and affectionate toward others. They don’t compare themselves to one another. They don’t just talk; they live their faith.

As you create this list together, help group members understand how these ideas and concepts become real and concrete.

Ask:
       How do the two lists compare?
       What’s missing? What’s the same?
       What can we learn by comparing the lists?
       What is difficult about being a community?
       Do the lists describe a community you would like to be part of?
Help the group to explore these ideas that define authentic Christian community.

Then ask these questions:
       How do we get to be part of the varsity football team? How do we get to be part of the musical cast? (We try out. If we do well, then we belong to the group.)
       How do we get on the honor roll? How do we graduate cum laude? (We get good grades.)
       How do these communities differ from the people of God? How do we become a part of an authentic Christian community? (Other communities require members to behave in a certain way to belong. Christian communities are different because there are no requirements, rules, or behaviors necessary to belong. God invites us to participate and to belong because God loves us.)

Say: “Often we are taught that we need to follow the rules to be part of the people of God; we need to follow the rules to belong to God. That’s not true. God invites us to belong; we are already part of God’s people.

Ask:
       How did we become part of our family? (We were born or adopted into it.)
       What could we do to stop being part of our family? (Nothing. Even if we are disowned or change our name, at our core we are still part of the family.)

Say: “The same is true for belonging to God’s family. We can’t earn or perform or behave our way into authentic Christian community, into God’s family. What we have listed are aspects of God’s family, what God’s family does; they are like family traditions and habits. We do them because they are what our family does. We do them because that’s what the people of God do.”

Ask:
       Does the idea of an authentic Christian community being God’s family make sense to you?
       How would you put the idea into your own words?

SHARING IN PRAYER

Say: “Praying is one of the things authentic Christian communities do.”

Bring the group together; ask group members to sit in a circle. Invite each person to pray silently or aloud for the person on his or her right. When your prayer time is finished, encourage everyone to keep praying for that person during the week and to follow up with him or her throughout the week to find out how the week is going.

TAKING IT FURTHER

Explore the historic discipline of living by a rule of life at “Northumbria Community.” Then write a rule of life with and for the group. Traditionally, a rule of life consists of some form of regular prayer, study, devotion, worship, regular action or service, and stewardship. Decide on what group members will make a commitment to do as a community for a set period of time. Then have them think about concrete and practical ways they might live as part of the community during the week. Some examples might be not buying new clothes, helping to organize closets in the church, reading the Bible four times a week, giving ten percent of an allowance to the church, helping someone carry groceries to his or her car, and so on. Encourage group members to check with you and one another in at regular intervals for sharing and encouragement.

—from devozine In the Habit (March/April 2015). Copyright © 2015 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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