The challenge of community

Posted Aug 07, 2013 | The Discipleship Project

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By Daniel T. Dempsey


Daniel DempseyThroughout our lives we will inevitably be involved in some type of community, whether that is a neighborhood, a church, a school, or even a class. Communities are like the individuals that compose them: unique. As we gather together in some form, we all bring our own ideas, our own assumptions, and our own expectations that no one else in the community may be aware of. The Different Drum by M. Scott Peck identifies some stages that communities go through as they journey together. Peck acknowledges the fact that all communities may not fit this pattern and that these stages are at best incomplete.

He identifies the following four stages of community development:

1. Pseudo-community
  1. 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. The essential dynamic in this stage is conflict-avoidance, in contrast with real community embodying conflict-resolving.
2. Chaos
  1. The chaos always centers on well-intentioned but misguided attempts to heal and convert. By and large, people resist change. So the healers and converters try harder to heal or convert, until finally their victims get their backs up and start trying to heal the healers and convert the converters. It is indeed chaos. In the state of chaos, individual differences are right out in the open. Only now, instead of trying to hide or ignore them, the group is attempting to obliterate them.
3. Emptiness
  1. There are only two ways out of chaos. One is into organization. The only other way is into and through emptiness. This is the most difficult and most necessary part of community development according to Peck. Emptiness is the need to empty ourselves of barriers to communications. We become aware of feelings, assumptions, ideas, and motives that have so filled our minds as to make them impervious as billiard balls. The final resistance to this stage is an attempt to flee back into pseudo-community.
4. Real Community
  1. When a group death has been completed, open and empty, the group enters real community. A soft quietness descends. It is a kind of peace. An extraordinary amount of healing and converting begins to occur—now that no one is trying to convert or heal. Once a group reaches real community, then what is its task? There are two answers to this question: to maintain its status and to bring to closure its experiences.

I think that we can all agree that achieving real community is no easy task. It is a task, though, that we as people of faith have been called to undertake. We have been placed together within the body of Christ to be in fellowship and in unity with one another. If we can achieve the place of true community, there are many blessings that can come:

  • Inclusivity, commitment, and consensus
  • Realism
  • Contemplation
  • A safe place
  • A group that can fight gracefully
  • A group of leaders
  • A spirit of love, peace, wisdom, and power

Even though the work is great and the differences many, the work of community is one that we must undertake if we truly desire to be in honest and open relationships with others. This process will require some give and take from all members of the group and sacrifices will be necessary. In the end, though, if we push through to true community, we will have something worth holding on to. May it be so!

Daniel T. Dempsey is entering his third year of study at CTS and is working on his Master of Divinity Degree. He is currently serving as the Student Minister at St. Peter’s United Church of Christ in Carmel, Indiana. Daniel is currently In-Care for Ordination with the Ohio Conference of the United Church of Christ.

The Discipleship Project is a groundbreaking approach to theological education at Christian Theological Seminary that is inspired by Jesus’ pedagogy in the New Testament gospels. To request permission to repost this content, please contact centerforpastoralexcellence@cts.edu.

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