The issues of “leadership” and “community” are huge topics and hot buzzwords in Church today and one only needs to visit a bookstore to peruse the countless book titles in these areas. Feeling a little overwhelmed I decided to return to a classic book in this area by one of the most amazing theological minds…Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And re-reading this book has reminded me more and more of why I love Bonhoeffer, and the important lessons we can learn from him. Life Together is Bonhoeffers thoughts and reflections during and about his time at Finkenwalde.
Two things to keep in mind as you continue reading this post:
- I read this book on my Amazon Kindle. This isn’t a post about the Kindle, but I do want to tell you that I love it. It’s an amazing tool. At this point I only have downloaded the Bible (NIV), Life Together, and Groundswell on it. I’ve also downloaded some sample books and I have been reading blogs on it. It’s quite awesome to go anywhere and have so many books on one unit.
- Bonhoeffer says some remarkable things, so this post is going to have a couple of very long quotes. I hope you don’t mind, and I do hope they give you pause for reflection.
One of the more interesting sections of the book is on the topic of community, leadership and “wishful thinking” and it is quite convicting for those of us who are leaders in our Church community, or for those of us who wish our Church was something different than it is. Bonhoeffer says this about our ideas on community:
On innumerable occasions a whole Christian community has been shattered because it has lived on the basis of a wishful image. Certainly serious Christians who are put in a community for the first time will often bring with them a very definite image of what Christian communal life [Zusammenleben] should be, and they will be anxious to realize it. But God’s grace quickly frustrates all such dreams. A great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves, is bond to overwhelm us as surely as God desires to lead us to an understanding of genuine Christian community. By sheer grace God will not permit us to live in a dream world even for a few weeks and to abandon ourselves to those blissful experiences and exalted moods that sweep over us like a wave of rapture. For God is not a God of emotionalism, but the God of truth. Only that community which enters into the experience of this great disillusionment with all its unpleasant and evil appearances begins to be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it. The sooner this moment of disillusionment comes over the individual and the community, the better for both. However, a community that cannot bear and cannot survive such disillusionment, clinging instead to its idealized image, when that should be done away with, loses at the same time the promise of a durable Christian community. Sooner or later it is bound to collapse.
Wow! I would say we are all guilty of wishing our Church community was something different that it is…at least at times.
How often do we lose the chance at a durable Christian community, because instead of weathering the ups-downs, trials and foibles of community we instead try to make it something else and it eventually collapses?
Bonhoeffer then goes on to close out his chapter in this section by saying this:
Every human idealized image that is brought into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be broken up so that genuine community can survive. Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial. (bold emphasis mine)
As leaders in our Church communities do we love our image of the Christian community more than the Christian community itself?
Have we ever paused to stop and reflect upon whether or not our vision and ideas for the community we lead is actually a hindrance to what God wants to accomplish through those in the community?
There are many books out there on Church community and leadership, but if you could only read one book I would recommend this one. No one says so much in such a small book as Bonhoeffer. He will have you stopping on every page and re-reading each section carefully so as not to miss anything, and to be quite sure about what he is saying.
Have you read this book before? What did you think of it?
If you haven’t read it before, are you now interested in reading it? Why?