One of the things that I’ve highlighted as a defining feature for the lives of plenty of people in their twenties is a lack of commitments. This can take the form of getting married and having families later, changing jobs frequently, and being unable, or unwilling, to buy a house. The composite effect of these trends is a generation that is transient and is always open to change. But moreover, change is championed as a good in and of itself, decisions that could tie you down are delayed in order to be able to change at a moment’s notice.
I don’t think this is all bad, I think there are in fact very good things to be said for an attitude that is willing to experiment, and a flexibility to change when that is necessary. But it can also have a corrosive effect. It can shun stability as boring or constricting, it can limit the depth of relationships, and it stands in the way of developing community.
We’re so open to change that we no longer know what holds us together.
In the absence of married and family life, not only is permanence a luxury, but community is harder to form. I may have plenty of friends, I may have a diary full of social activities, and facebook notifications inviting me to more, but am I part of a community that invests in each other and cares and grows.
There is something about being part of a family unit that makes the development of community easier. And as you grow older and more people shift into that camp the remaining options become sparser. This is on top of the life in a city such as London where people frequently work long hours, commute considerable distances, live far apart and have hectic social lives. Where in this space does the energy and capacity for community?
A contradiction is at work here, I want to be a part of something, I want to know people and I want to be known. But I don’t always make the sacrifices necessary to make that happen. I tick the box to say that I want it but my priorities tell a different tale. We turn creating community into a purpose that we can reduce to defined functions and complete. We will spend time with people, we will eat together, we will be accountable to one another. We will do so much while still failing to build a community of love.
There are two things that mimic community but in my experience tend to fall short. The first is friendship groups and social activity and the second are church small groups. I think they come at the need from two different directions, friendships are built on time and communal activity, small groups based on defined purpose and structured meeting.
And we avoid intentionality, whether it’s in friendships or in church small groups. We like things to go with the flow, intentionality in friendship seems forced, and our church groups are too often simply a secondary reprise of the Sunday before. We can do a lot of stuff, whether it’s social or spiritual activity, but that doesn’t by itself translate to community.
I’m beginning to think that the starting point for developing an authentic community is a willingness to prioritise, so that while other things will make their calls on our life, the community to which we commit does not suffer. The social dimension of the gospel means that we cannot live out our faith alone, or in narrow silos unconcerned with each other. It needs an integrated space where we may live different lives, and work out our own stories but we can come together, and in doing that the stories of our life will always be changed.