UPDATE: Sorry people, I don’t know who the community group leaders for Passion 2010 are going to be. I have looked carefully at the official Passion 2010 site, but was not able to find it. That information may be out there somewhere on the web if you search diligently enough for it, but you won’t be getting it from me.
Today I have some more unsolicited advice for those of you who are going to Passion 2010. And this has to do with the subject of community.
We in evangelical Protestant-dom are thoroughly infatuated with what happens in large groups–i. e. what happens in huge, fast-growing churches or what happens in large gatherings where you and 25,000 of your closest friends are all there to get crunk to Chris Tomlin. One unfortunate consequence of this is that we have largely blown off the notion that the Christian life is meant to be lived out in community, or that meaningful life change happens in the context of Christian community.
Passion has built a mechanism into their gatherings to account for this, and that is the community group. The way community groups work (unless they’ve changed some things around in recent years) is this: You will be assigned to one of a certain number of midsize gatherings called community groups. At the very first of these gatherings, you will be divided into small groups of about 8-10 people. You will meet with these same 8-10 people at every community group session thereafter.
The whole point of the community group is to put you into contact with people whom you would otherwise never meet, living in places which you would probably never see. Here you will have the opportunity to discuss how certain ideas from the main sessions are landing in your life and what you think God is saying to you, with a small and unchanging group of new friends from outside the bubble of your own college ministry. The hope is that your interaction with these people over the course of the four days of Passion 2010 would form the basis for lasting relationships which would help to ensure that what happens in your life during these four days does not just evaporate when the smoke machines are turned off after the final worship set.
I know that it will be tempting to just blow off community group time and sleep in an extra hour or go out and grab coffee with your friends from the college ministry that you came with. All I have to say is: RESIST THAT TEMPTATION!!!!! If you give in to that temptation, you will be doing yourself nothing but a grave disservice. The assistance and friendship of the people whom you meet in your community group may prove crucial to you at some later point in your Christian journey. And your influence may prove crucial to them at some later point in their Christian journey.
Allow me at this point to direct your attention to a Michael Spencer post in which he talks about how important it is to be part of a community where we can talk freely and openly about who we are, what we are struggling with, and what God is doing in our lives.
The Christian life was meant to be lived out in the context of community. Life change is not something that happens at conferences and concerts, in full view of all our 25,000 closest friends. Do not mistake the buzz and the rush that you feel from being in that room with the music cranking and all 25,000 of you going hard at it for meaningful life change. Meaningful life change is something that happens when we live our lives in community with a small group of close, trusted friends with whom we can share our joys, sorrows, and struggles. It happens when we are in community with others who know us well and who will be gut-level honest with us and challenge us to be all that we can be.
Evangelicals place way too much emphasis on “Jesus and me”. This is because for several decades evangelical churches and the evangelical movement have been shaped around a Four Spiritual Laws/Evangelism Explosion gospel message which reduces salvation to something you do individually with God and takes the church completely and totally out of the picture. I wrote at length about this in an earlier post. The upshot is that the church is nothing more than a group of people who are united around “accepting Jesus” in order to get into heaven, and proclaiming to all the world that you must “accept Jesus” in order to get into heaven. This undercuts much of the church’s intended functionality, and leaves many believers running out of reasons to remain part of it.
It’s not just about “Jesus and me”, people. It never was. And in this day and age especially, “Jesus and me” is just not good enough. Because the world is a very dangerous place, and it is becoming increasingly hard to hold on to faith in Christ. Not because of all those godless liberal college professors running around out there on your campuses; those are the least of your worries. Indeed, in this day and age, the greatest danger to your faith will come from inside the church itself. It will come from churches where the whole emphasis of the gospel that is preached is nothing but “Jesus and me”. And it will come from influential teachers and leaders who will invite you to submit to letting them tell you who you are and what your answers are to a whole host of issues and questions which have nothing whatsoever to do with the center of the Christian gospel, because their concept of faith is nothing more or less than the complete sacrifice of personal integrity and individuality.
In this brave new world, “Jesus and me” is no longer good enough (as if it ever was). You need to be in community with believers who are on the same journey as yourself. You need a safe place where you can drop the masks of false piety and certainty and just be real, where you can say that the cookie-cutter spirituality that so much of present-day evangelical Protestant-dom is being force-fed and is choking to death on, is just not you. It will be very hard to find this kind of community out there in that wide, wide world. But the friendships that you form in your community groups will no doubt be a good place to start.
It is not for nothing that Passion has gone to all the trouble to have community groups. These are intended to be a resource for you, to help ensure that whatever happens in your life here during the four days of Passion 2010 does not stay here. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas–but this is not Vegas!!!!!
The Christian life was not meant to be lived out alone. Despite what you may have heard, “Jesus and me” is just not good enough. So avail yourself of the community groups at Passion 2010.