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When church becomes community

Screen shot from Christianity Today's small group's website

When church becomes community

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By Mark Azzara

Dear Friend,

I attended a meeting at my church last week at which wannabe small-group faith-sharing leaders were taught how to do that task. What it boiled down to was a session in community-building.

No sooner did I get home than I tripped over an interesting article by Terry Mattingly that got me to rethink community. Mattingly wrote about a minister whose pastorate is the local Waffle House. Yes, seriously.

We live in all sorts of communities. Not just our cities or towns but our social and civic groups, political parties, star-idolizing fan clubs and fantasy sports leagues.

If those examples are any indication of modern reality, people don’t need Jesus to find community. But I would argue that we really do need Jesus if we are going to build authentic communities.

I define a real community as a place where someone is accepted by others, can be himself or herself, can ask penetrating questions that don’t have easy answers, can grow in ways that are unsettling but essential, and can speak about what’s going on in their lives without being rejected or criticized.

Churches have a long way to go before they are real communities. But the session that I attended hopefully will change that for some of the folks who attend my church. I’m not naïve enough to think we will all become uber vulnerable. But the opportunity is there.

There are a variety of resources that can lead you in that direction. For Catholics, Renew International is terrific. And for all churches there’s Christianity Today’s free small-groups website and newsletter.

Jesus sees us much more clearly than we see ourselves, yet he loves us anyway. That is, I think, the ultimate goal of these small groups – to get us to love one another, and then to realize he will even give us the capacity to love those outside our groups. You know, the ones we presently deem unlovable.

I facilitate my church’s men’s Scripture group – the kind of small group that will be replicated throughout our congregation. In our meetings we spend time talking about our lives and the lessons the Bible can teach us about how we live. We trust each other, care about one another, and feel loved by one another.

Sadly that’s a rare experience. But I am joyful that another step in that direction is about to take place in our parish. I can hardly wait – not merely for another group or five to be formed but for love to become more real in our congregation. Because when love becomes real Jesus becomes real.

All God’s blessings – Mark

Mark Azzara

About Mark Azzara

Mark Azzara spent 45 years in print journalism, most of them with the Waterbury Republican in Connecticut, where he was a features writer with a special focus on religion at the time of his retirement. He also worked for newspapers in New Haven and Danbury, Conn. At the latter paper, while sports editor, he won a national first-place writing award on college baseball. Azzara also has served as the only admissions recruiter for a small Catholic college in Connecticut and wrote a self-published book on spirituality, “And So Are You.” He is active in his church and a non-denominational prayer community and facilitates two Christian study groups for men. Azzara grew up in southern California, graduating from Cal Sate Los Angeles. He holds a master’s degree from the University of Connecticut.

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