Finding Community in a Strange Place!

Core Value Three: Authentic Community

Several years ago I had the privilege of traveling to Toledo, Ohio, to attend my father’s induction ceremony into his high school sports hall of fame. It was an incredible evening getting to see my dad honored in this way – especially knowing some of the obstacles he had to overcome while growing up on the Eastside of Toledo. The only drawback to the evening was when an older man walked up to me at the buffet table and said, “John Jamerson? Man, you look great!” To which I replied, “I’m not John Jamerson, I’m his oldest son Dave and man, either I look really old for 46 or my dad is the most robust 70 year old on the planet.” I walked back to my table and thought, “do I really look 70?”

Anyway, as the evening went along and each of the 18 inductees got up to give their speeches I noticed two common themes running throughout their stories. The first theme was that every single inductee mentioned one or two other people (“mentors”) who were critical to their success. Nobody achieved their success alone. Person after person got up and talked about the important people in their lives who helped them get to where they got. The second thing that stood out was how important “community” was to the group. They were all impacted by a real sense of “community” and now carried that value with them wherever they went. Community was hugely important to them.

Literally, I could write the rest of the blog on the amazing stories that were told that night but I will only share one about a 1987 graduate named Tony Smith. Tony grew up a pretty average kid from the wrong side of the tracks who didn’t have a lot of dreams or aspirations. The turning point in his life was when a football coach reached out to him, believed in him, and intentionally invested into him. Through tears Tony talked about how day after day this coach taught him how to be an offensive lineman, inspired him, encouraged him, challenged him, and loved him. Tony then shared that this is exactly what he is doing now right there on the Eastside of the city. He loves his city. He loves the kids and families there. He loves his community and he wants to invest into other people the same way he was invested into. There was something so genuine, authentic, and believable in what he expressed.

I found myself thinking, “man, how many churches could honestly say that they carry this same spirit of community that I heard in Tony’s voice and story? How many churches are this passionate about genuinely loving those around them and investing into them? How many churches are this committed to joyfully and sacrificially serving the communities in which they are located?” See, many times in the church we think we have the corner on the market for things like “community” and we don’t. We think if we just print up a nice banner and some t-shirts that say “We Value Community” then everybody will stop what they are doing, flock to our gatherings, open up their lives, and thank us. Actually, if truth be known, many times we are worse at “real community” than other parts of society. Yet, as the church, we have the opportunity to be the most committed, loving people because of how completely and sacrificially God has loved us. Jesus modeled it for us. Look at what the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12: 9-13, “Love must be sincere. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” The world is looking for sincerity right now.

As I drove back the next day to Indianapolis I shared with April the significance these stories had on me and how they challenged me. Am I loving people this genuinely with no strings attached? The answer is no and I need to grow in this. Am I willing to open up my life and make myself vulnerable to others or do I want to manage my relationships? Probably manage my relationships. Am I willing to invest 10,15, or 20 years into a community to see it become all God has intended for it to become despite the flaws and challenges? I can tell you that this is how I want to live and this is the type of relationships I want to cultivate in our church plant. At the end of the day it truly is all about relationships.

Love you guys!

Dave