How to develop true community in your church — Q&A with David Horn

qawithdavidhornWhat does it mean to develop true community in our churches—and how do we get there? In Soulmates, David Horn addresses these questions with creativity, wisdom, and pastoral love, equipping you with a practical roadmap to achieving deeper relationships within your church community. By setting the utterly unique relationship, fellowship, against the backdrop of another important relationship that serves most often as its chief counterfeit, friendship, Horn seeks to give definition and understanding to true Christian community. Covering such topics as the many faces of relationship, the nature of friendship, the making of community, the hospitality of sojourners and aliens, and more, Soulmates invites readers to understand and move into the uncommon relationship that we, as the body of Christ, are to engender in one another in our life together—a relationship that is far more unique and radical than we often imagine.

Now, Horn gives a sneak peek of these topics in this exclusive interview!

1. How do you define “friendship” and “fellowship”? What’s the difference?

At first blush, friendship and fellowship give the appearance of being the same kind of relationship. After all, aren’t we just being “friendly” when we are “fellowshipping” with one another? They seem to be the same, but they are actually exact opposite kinds of relationships. One is exclusive, the other non-exclusive, one is highly preferential, the other non-preferential, one is freely chosen, the other a relationship of obligation, to name a few differences. Soulmates turns to both the historical and biblical accounts to offer a typology of these and many other differences between the two relationships.

2. In your opinion, why do churches seem to be so confused about the differences between friendship and fellowship?

The confusion is quite understandable. Both are profoundly personal, deeply intimate, wonderfully informal, powerfully expressive, and filled with authentic affection. Both are much sought after relationships in our culture. It seems natural that churches would seek to define their efforts toward developing authentic Christian fellowship as just being “more friendly.”

3. How would you suggest that churches begin to shift from emphasizing friendship to emphasizing fellowship? What changes should they implement in their messages and actions?

In a real sense, friendship is a cheap counterfeit for Christian fellowship. But how can something so positive as expressing friendship be potentially destructive if expressed in the wrong context, specifically the church? Perhaps the most important thing churches can do is wade through the inarticulate mushiness of relationships in order to more clearly define what we really mean by “Christian community.” Once understood, churches will have a much clearer ability to set concrete goals and objectives for how community can be encouraged in the life and programs of the church.

4. As you discuss in your book, many people come to church looking for friendship. What would you say to those people in order to modify their expectations?

Great expectations, indeed! First, let’s get this straight: The relationship that defines the church is far more radical than we can ever imagine. We tend to think that what goes on in the midst of the gathering Christian community is just an extension of the relationships that go on, for example, in the Rotary Club or in a friendly bar where “everyone knows your name.” Not only is it different; far more is being asked of us in the midst of the fellowship of the church than merely that we be friends.

5. You describe fellowship as requiring more than friendship. How would you encourage people who are frightened by what true fellowship might require of them?

My encouragement for those who might even be paralyzed by the radical demands required of us in developing authentic Christian community is that expressing this relationship that defines the church is not ultimately dependent upon us. It is not based on our natural ability to be sociable, or our our capacity for being gregarious, or our personality. Ultimately it is not up to us at all. True Christian community occurs only through the power of the Spirit of God in our midst. It is the mediating work of the Spirit in our midst, connecting us with our brothers and sisters in Christ, that is the source of our fellowship.

6. You talk quite a bit about messiness—in friendship, in fellowship, in authentic hospitality. Why did you think messiness is such an important element to emphasize throughout Soulmates?

In one sense, the messiness that afflicts our understanding of Christian community is no different than any of the relationships that occupy our lives, be it friendship, marriage, family, in the workplace, even commercially. And, like all of these culturally-defined relationships, the more that one understands how they work, the less prone they are to fall into conflict, misunderstanding, and confusion. This book seeks to, for a moment, stand above the weeds and look over the horizon of how relationships work without the conflicting emotional baggage that surrounds them. This is especially true for those informal relationships that we most take for granted like friendship and fellowship.

7. How does authentic fellowship help facilitate the changes (and age ranges) in leadership that churches require to thrive in the long term?

Churches are, by nature, generational. Healthy churches span two or three generations. They grow and die based on how churches share the community and authority from one generation to the next. Investing ownership of a sense of community to a new generation doesn’t just happen; it demands great intentionality on the part of pastors and church leadership. It requires sometimes that older generations give up ownership of its rules of community for the benefit of new individuals seeking to enter.

8. You mention that some people are more gifted in hospitality than others. How can people who don’t fall into that category contribute to authentic fellowship in their church communities?

Hospitality is a special spiritual gift that some in the church possesses, but not all. First, it should be said, those who have the gift of hospitality–which is often viewed as one of the “lesser” gifts–need to be identified and greatly encouraged to express the gift by church leadership. This does not mean, however, that those who don’t have the gift aren’t called to express hospitality in some fashion. Everyone is responsible for extending themselves in some way. As with all the spiritual gifts on Paul’s list—the gift of evangelism, for example—expressing these functions of the church are not the exclusive domain of those who have the gift. Expressing true hospitality doesn’t just happen in the church; it takes hard work by all committed to living in authentic community, but some gifted more than others.

9. When discussing the community at L’Abri, you wrote, “Supremely open to any person and conversation on the front end, the community never gave up anything it stood for on the back. Open expressions of hospitality and commitment to biblical and theological principles are not mutually exclusive.” Can you expand a little more on practical ways that churches in the West can emulate L’Abri’s balance?

Stand at the threshold of any community of relationships, whether it be a church, a service club, a new work situation, or an extended family of a soon-to-be brother in law. It is most often a scary thing for the relationally uninitiated. Navigating new relationships always requires understanding the inside language and formal—to say nothing of the informal—rules of a new set of relationships: “How does one interpret this or that phrase?” “Should I take this or that look personally?” “Who has the authority in this set of relationships?”

10. Churches need to do a much better job of getting “into the skin” of new and non-believers. Without patrionizing them, what questions are they asking? What is required of them to be accepted? Can they be apart of the church and disagree? To what extent?

A welcome desk in the foyer and a new member’s class may not be enough, as well intended as they may be. It may require creating concrete moments in the life of the church where new and nonbelievers can ask the simple questions of their heart. This requires compelling and knowledgeable minds who are genuinely more interested in a person’s questions than giving scripted (if true) answers. Who are these sensitive and knowledgeable souls in your church?

Soulmates by David HornDavid Horn (ThD, Boston University School of Theology) served for over twenty years as director of the Ockenga Institute of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which included overseeing the Shoemaker Center for Church Renewal and the Compass Program. He also served on the pastoral staff of First Congregational Church in Hamilton, Massachusetts, and continues to be actively involved in the leadership and teaching ministries of the church. Dr. Horn writes and speaks on issues related to practical theology and sociology of religion.

For more information about Soulmates, visit our website.

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