In a culture where individuality, self-reliance, and self-confidence are so prized and where disillusionment with the Bible or established religion have pushed so many out on their own, a special word about our need for one another and Christian community may be helpful. Spiritual pilgrims must walk their own paths, but wise pilgrims seldom if ever try to go it completely alone. We need each other for support, for wisdom, for perspective, for accountability, for encouragement, for help, and for prayer. Though each of us has our own unique perspective, we need to know the views of others to help us navigate our way.
Community may be defined and experienced very narrowly (such as by our best friends, family, or small group), as it is most commonly (such as by our classmates, others in our town, or those who attend our church), or very broadly (such as by others within our state or nation or even fellow human beings throughout the world from different cultures and religions). We may regularly spend time face to face with a set group of people or enjoy a network of relationships via the Internet with people we have never seen, though most of us will need some physical touch and to be physically present with our friends to feel satisfied in our relationships.
In 2006, my wife, two teenage sons, and I took a pilgrimage. Together we walked el Camino de Santiago—the Way of St. James—a 500-mile route across northern Spain that has existed for over a thousand years. When we were on pilgrimage, walking fifteen miles a day for five-and-a-half weeks, we felt a sense of community both among the walkers and with the many hostel hosts and greeters along the way. Our journey was enhanced by each member, including those who caused conflict or bothered us, because they helped us learn more about ourselves and forced us to adapt, change, and seek God in new ways, or else continue to suffer. Our deepest sense of community, however, came from those we walked with for the whole journey.
The keys to a vital community, however formed and defined, are connection and communication along with commitment and caring. The best community experiences include openness, acceptance, humility, and grace. We greatly benefit from interactive relationships with others, whether they are with anonymous copilgrims encountered on the path, beloved companions all along the way, or even annoying fellow pilgrims. In community we can share our experiences with one another, and in the process open ourselves up to learning from, being influenced by, and influencing one another. Wherever we may find them, we will benefit enormously if we can accept that we need people who have complementary gifts and personalities, and if we seek out those who have something special to offer us and commit ourselves to offer our gifts, time, and energy to those who need us.
We will also grow spiritually if we find ways to connect with those who have extraordinary experience, insights, or gifts. Some of these people will be in our Christian community or church. Others we will only know through their writing, art, architecture, songs, or some other expression of their unique contribution.
Further, for Spirit-led pilgrims to keep growing, our conversation with others also needs to extend backwards throughout recorded history. As we draw on the wisdom of the ages and the experiences of our forebears, including the writers of Scripture, we will be much more knowledgeable, grounded, and wise. Similarly, the conversation also needs to look ahead by imagining the kind of social, religious, and political world that we might want to create, and then working with others to pursue our dreams.
Finally, the world that lies in the future is still an open question. Who will create it? We will—or rather, communities of people will. What I experience in the future will be greatly affected by what my fellow pilgrims think, believe, and do in the present. No matter what I think my personal truth might be or how much I value my own individual path, the decisions I make will affect others around me, for better or for worse, just as theirs will affect me. We will go into the future as individuals as much as ever, but the relationships, the conversations, the planning, and the doing of pilgrims in community will affect all of us. Our interface with others will greatly determine what we experience and how we draw meaning from and give purpose to our lives—and how we contribute to the lives of others.
As pilgrims we simply do not walk alone. Others have preceded us, and others are currently walking alongside us or walking in different directions or to other places. Many are seeking God, meaning, and the fullness of life in one way or another, just as we are. Further, the Spirit often chooses to speak to us and lead us through others, making relationships with spiritually vital people very important.
Pursuing God within community, then, can offer many benefits. For greater safety and security, pursuing God within a community of sincere, knowledgeable pilgrims can be reassuring and helpful. For greater knowledge and wisdom, interacting with both learned people and those from other traditions and faiths in the broader world can be quite fruitful. For encouragement and support for the journey, finding the right kind of community offers companionship, perspective, and essential help along the way. On the other hand, those who try to go it alone or who refuse to listen to others set themselves up for futile wandering at best and disaster at worst. Spiritual arrogance, rooted in self-centeredness and an overly self-confident reliance on one’s own thinking and experience, can easily lead to making significant personal mistakes and to hurting others.
Sometimes finding a church that feels like a good fit is really hard. Sometimes others don’t want to resolve their conflicts with us or cannot do so peacefully. Trying to develop authentic, mutually beneficial relationships is often hard work and doing so with some people seems impossible. Most of us have memories of being hurt by someone in Christian community, and some of us still carry the scars from our wounds. Finding, cultivating, and maintaining spiritually vital relationships within community sometimes may seem like too much work with too little promise. Nevertheless, in my experience, without Christian community we simply cannot experience the fullness of life God intends for us, and we will limit our spiritual growth and miss out on important aspects of Spirit-led living.
We are inseparably linked to each other. None of us is so wise or enlightened that we cannot learn from others. In fact, we need each other, and we will all benefit from learning how to live better in community with each other in every imaginable and possible way. Healthy community is an essential ingredient to spiritual vitality and transformation, and learning how to journey peacefully and constructively with one another is critical for the future of our world. It is worth the effort to keep trying to find or create Christian community, for everyone’s sake.
Adapted from One Step at a Time: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Spirit-Led Living by Timothy C. Geoffrion, copyright © 2008 by the Alban Institute. All rights reserved.
One Step at a Time: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Spirit-Led Living by Timothy C. Geoffrion
Each year, tens of thousands of pilgrims walk el Camino de Santiago—the Way of St. James—a 500-mile route across northern Spain that has existed for
over a thousand years. Tim Geoffrion made this pilgrimage with his wife and teenage sons in 2006. He writes not only about his own journey but about how God works in those who seek to be led by the Spirit. Using pilgrimage as a metaphor for the Spirit-led life, he offers his experiences, thoughts, and reflections as a catalyst for readers’ own spiritual pilgrimage—the lifelong journey of growth into the life Christ intends for us. Whether or not we ever travel a path like El Camino, we can each learn how to better walk our own spiritual pilgrimage, one step at a time.
The Spirit-Led Leader: Nine Leadership Practices and Soul Principles by Timothy C. Geoffrion
Designed for pastors, executives, administrators, managers, coordinators, and all who see themselves as leaders and who want to fulfill their God-given purpose, The Spirit-Led Leader addresses the critical fusion of spiritual life and leadership for those who not only want to see results but also desire to care just as deeply about who they are and how they lead as they do about what they produce and accomplish. Geoffrion creates a new vision for spiritual leadership as partly an art, partly a result of careful planning, and always a working of the grace of God.
Traveling Together: A Guide for Disciple-Forming Congregations by Jeffrey D. Jones
By becoming congregations of disciples, churches and their individual members will prepare themselves to do the hard work of seeking God’s will and discerning God’s call, finding new possibilities in old answers as well as radically new ways to be and to do church. Jones guides readers through what it means to be a disciple, from key experiences that contribute to the growth of disciples to the practices of disciple-forming congregations.
WEBINAR ON DEMAND
Pilgrim’s Guide for Spirit Led LivingLed by Tim Geoffrion
Length 1 hour
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