Community is essential to our spiritual formation. 

“At the core of our being is this truth, we are designed for and defined by our relationships. We were born with a relentless longing to participate in the lives of others. We cannot not be relational. We cannot exist well without connection and communion with another.” —Richard Plass

No matter who you are or where you come from, no matter how introverted you find yourself or busy you may be, a Gospel community is non-optional in your discipleship to Jesus. It provides the context for where we are transformed as we live connected to other followers of Jesus. It is where sin is exposed and sinners are encouraged.

Community is essential to our spiritual formation. Community, however, is messy. Christ-centered relationships are beautiful; developing them can seem to take a lifetime of work and sacrifice, leaving us wondering if the reward really outweighs the cost.

Maybe this is where you are today. You stepped into a missional community looking for life-givers but found only life-takers. You signed up for deep relationships with gospel-centered encouragers but discovered a group filled with annoying, self-absorbed, needy sinners just like you and me.

Real community is real messy. But if you stick with it you will discover that it is truly a magnificent mess.

Jean Vanier says it like this, “Almost everyone finds their early days in a community ideal. It all seems perfect. They feel they are surrounded by saints, heroes, or at the least, the most exceptional people who are everything they want to be themselves. And then comes the let-down. The greater their idealization of the community at the start, the greater the disenchantment. If people manage to get through this second period, they come to a third phase—that of realism and of true commitment. They no longer see other members of the community as saints or devils, but as people—each with a mixture of good and bad, darkness and light, each growing and each with their own hope. The community is neither heaven nor hell, but planted firmly on earth, and they are ready to walk in it, and with it. They accept the community and the other members as they are; and they are confident that together they can grow towards something more beautiful.”

Community is a journey. It’s a journey that often starts on “Happy Hill,” takes us through “Crappy Valley,” but brings us out on “Family Mountain.” (Props to John Carrell for sharing this language with me in 2010.)

Here is how it works:

Happy Hill

When we first step into a gospel community, we start out on “Happy Hill.” Happy Hill is surface-level, but it’s fun. It’s the honeymoon stage of community where we tend to see all positive and no negative. It’s a great place to be! Eventually comes the letdown.

Crappy Valley

Because community is filled with imperfect people, it’s merely a matter of time before conflicts arise and weighty issues begin to surface. We call this “Crappy Valley,” and it’s the place where most people want to check out—but it’s here that Jesus wants to do some of His most beautiful work in us.

Family Mountain

We all long to be in a family where we can be known, belong, and be loved. This experience is possible for all of us, but only if we are willing to journey through Crappy Valley with our brothers and sisters in the faith. This will feel like a climb. It takes sacrifice and hard work, but in the end, if you will not grow weary in doing good, you will reap what you sow. Not only will you begin to discover your true self, but authentic gospel community will be formed. We call this “Family Mountain.” It takes time to get there. It will cost you something. But the view is beautiful!

What phase of the journey to Family Mountain are you in right now?

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One Comment

  1. Thanks for providing some simple descriptors for this common experience, Jared! The challenge I’ve found is bringing people with a traditional small group experience to the reality that Crappy Valley is ahead, and that when ugly gospel needs arise, it’s not a reason to decide to leave the group. So many come to MC with a romanticized ideal of small group life. The graphic is a great tool to help people see what MC life can actually be like.

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