If you've been around the world of Cru for awhile, you'd probably agree that community is vital to individual and corporate health. In his CruPress book, The Kingdom of Couches , Will Walker states, “Community is not an event, activity, application point, or something we need to do in order to grow in our spiritual lives. Rather, it is the context in which all activities, application, and spiritual growth happens.” So yeah, it's kind of a big deal.
Developing great community is central to the success of any team, especially a short-term group like a summer mission. A bunch of students -- new to each other, new to another country, all for the purpose of enlarging the kingdom of God -- has potential for great success or disaster. While there are steps we take to ensure success, it is important to be aware of pitfalls.
Learning from past experience, I have noticed three temptations that lead to the demise of a missional team by eroding the foundation of community.
"Comparison is the thief of joy." Theodore Roosevelt
The first temptation is the desire to compare ourselves with others. Of course, comparing is a natural part of becoming acquainted with new people. We talk about where we live, what we study, and our families. We notice what we wear, what food we prefer, our sense of humor, and what sport teams we cheer for. Nothing seems amiss here unless we feel that our interests, personality, abilities, and experiences make us better than others and ultimately more significant in the eyes of God. Or conversely, we begin to feel that God overlooked us when it comes to blessing, opportunity, and success. These kinds of thoughts are the first steps in a spiritual downward spiral. Our thoughts darken about God and we begin to isolate ourselves from deep relationships with others.
The disciples were afflicted with this kind of thinking. “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” is the question we read in Matthew 19. Their debate escalated as time went on. At one point Jesus asked the disciples, "'What were you arguing about on the road?' But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.” (Mark 9:33,34)
Most students I observe are more subtle in their conversation than this, but nevertheless, thoughts of comparison and competition can run rampant and are sure to damage a community.
"When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself." Wayne Dyer
The second temptation comes quickly on the heels of comparison: it is the temptation to judge. First, let's clarify some terms. In telling us, "Do not judge," (Luke 6:37) Jesus is not referring to discernment, which is the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions. The judgment that he warns about -- the kind that destroys community -- is perhaps best described by using synonyms like criticism, condemnation, or chastisement.
The disciples judged others who were not a part of them. In Luke 9, just after another conversation about who would be the greatest, the disciples asked Jesus about the person who was driving out demons. They tried to stop him because he was not one of them. Next, as a Samaritan village did not welcome the disciples, the disciples asked Jesus whether they should call fire down and destroy the village. Was it right for the disciples to judge others in these situations? The answer was a resounding "NO."
Who do we think we are to know the mind of God and what he is doing in another person’s life? James addresses this issue by reminding his readers not to speak of others in a hurtful way, as if we are their judges. Do we qualify as a judge? Are we above the law ourselves? “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you, who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:12)
All that to say, being a Judgy McJudgerson can seriously disrupt the unity of a team. (And you can't have community without unity.)
"Gossip is the Devil's radio." George Harrison
The third destroyer of community is the temptation to gossip. Saying unnecessarily critical things about people (especially behind their backs) causes others in your community to take sides and think bad things about that person. That's why Proverbs provides many warnings about gossip.
"A gossip betrays a confidence but a trustworthy person keeps a secret." (11:13)
"A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends." (16:28)
"Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down." (26:20)
Last summer, my friend told me about a conversation in an elevator where some of the women were criticizing another student for her choice regarding a boyfriend. This discussion was centered more on slander than on expressing genuine concern for the student's well-being. My friend was stunned and did not know how to respond to their unkind remarks. In fact, she wondered what they said about her when she was not present. Surely gossip tears apart trust and destroys the fabric of true community.
How do you deal with these kinds of thoughts, attitudes, words, and actions? I would like to suggest three reminders to keep us loving God and others as we are commanded.
First, value what God is doing in your own life. “Don’t think of yourself more highly than you should. Be reasonable when you think about yourself. Keep in mind the faith God has given to each of you.” (Romans 12:3, NIRV) Appreciate the story God is giving you, knowing that his plan and timing is unique for you and good. Appreciate the story God is giving another person, knowing that his plan and time is unique for them and good.
Second, realize you may not know the whole story of what is happening in another person’s life to accurately make a judgment about them. The Pharisees judged Jesus incorrectly because they did not know he was born in Bethlehem and assumed he was born in Nazareth (see John 7). If we do not have all the information, then our ability to judge correctly is severely impaired. We rarely have all the information.
Finally, stop yourself from saying something that will harm the reputation of another person. Before sharing confidential information about someone, put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself, "Would I want other people to be talking about me this way?"
Why destroy the work God is doing in the life of a community?
Comparison, judgment, and gossip ruin God’s work to create a place that demonstrates the love of God by mutual acceptance and humility. May we with “one mind and voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:6)
Peter was so sure that even though all the other disciples would desert Jesus, he would not (see Mark 14:27-31). But of course, he did disown Jesus.
In John 21, Jesus confronts Peter and his previous thought about his superior faith by asking him, “Do you love me more than these (other disciples)?”
Read John 21: 15-23 and discuss the reply of Peter and responses of Jesus. What seems significant in this conversation? Especially consider verses 20-23. How does Jesus' response to Peter give us instruction as well?
* Photo courtesy of Jenny Downey.
If you’re leading a team then you know you that this is crunch time. There are a few precious weeks with these people who have been entrusted to your care before your staff peel off to focus on MPD and prepare for their summer assignments. You can help your team end well by reminding them that they are not lone rangers. You can lead a discussion on what it means to be a TEAM.
There is tremendous comfort in the knowledge that we are "seated" with Christ. You have a seat at the table with Jesus. You are seated with Him right now. You are at the Greatest Table with the Greatest King.
“Perhaps the most undervalued quality of a great mind or, at least, an awakened mind, is the willingness to abandon cherished ideas that cannot stand up to new evidence.” Joseph Loconte “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”
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