I like Alan Hirsch’s simple definition for communitas.

Mission + Trust = Communitas

Hirsch’s definition came to mind when I was discussing John 17 with some people. John 17 has Jesus praying what is called the “high priestly prayer”. In his prayer, Jesus asks for the disciples to be together as one, and they be in God.

The discussion I was involved with talked about how important it is to have unity, but I don’t think you can have unity for the sake of unity. I remarked there has to be something more than just wanting unity. There needs to be a point, a purpose, if you are going to have true unity. For the disciples, if they were going to have community with God and one another, if they were going to be “one”, they needed to be on the same mission.

When you are on the same mission with someone, you can weather the ups and downs that come up on the mission. You can endure and resolve conflicts that happen. As you journey toward that mission with others, you develop trust with them because you have endured so much together toward the mission.

The natural outcome is a depth of community that is nearly unmatched.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how important it is to have that sense of communitas at work. As you probably know, I am a pastor at a church. I have worked with ministries/non-profits for roughly half my life. You would think it would be easy to develop a sense of communitas with coworkers, but this isn’t always the case.

One of the worst experiences of my life was a ministry split I experienced when I was a missionary. The communitas was shattered due to a weakening trust over what the misssion’s organization mission should be. The leader of the organization was clear in explaining the mission. Before he became the leader, the mission was all over the place. So, for many they could pursue their own thing with like-minded people and feel a sense of community. There were various communities within the overall community. But when the mission was clearly defined by this new leader, and expectations were given for this newly defined mission, people left. It crossed with their own ideas of what the mission should be.

There are a variety of reasons why this happens. People have their own idea what is best for a ministry, despite what their leadership thinks. People have as a priority to develop and establish themselves at the expense of their organization’s mission. People focus in solely on their identity, role and/or team and not how it interacts with the overall team toward the mission.

When the dust settled from the split, one of the things that surprised me were my friendships. I was closer with those who I was on mission with. Some of these people I never would’ve considered friends, but going through the various trials of the mission together strengthened the bonds between us.

The ministry split also weakened, severed, or revealed the lack of depth in many friendships. The first hint of conflict and tension caused some friends to bail on our friendship. Sometimes, the friendships weakened over conversations about what the ministry’s mission was, and whether or not we believed in it. I remember one conversation going late into the night with one dear friend. At the end of it, we came to the conclusion we weren’t going to agree. As I walked away from his place, I knew our friendship had suffered a blow and we wouldn’t be as close as we once had been.*

*It’s one reason, amongst many, I look forward to Heaven. I look forward to certain friendships being restored, if it doesn’t happen before then.

The split was a painful time, and yet the organization became more effective with their work. The mission was clear. I knew who was on the team and what we were playing towards. The greatest amount of impact, and influence, I had while working at the organization was after the split.

I have lots of fun memories and ridiculous experiences before the split, but so what? Life is more than that.

When I consider who I work with now, whether staff or volunteers, I hope for them to be on the same mission as I am. At Christ Community Church, the mission is, “Making disciples of Jesus for kingdom impact”. How that looks will vary from team to team, but that is what we are pursuing together as a church.

When I work with people who are on that mission, at CCC, it’s easier to work through conflict and endure the tough times. Even better? A friendship is formed that I sometimes never would’ve expected. A community of like-minded friends develops as we pursue mission.

We aren’t just keeping ourselves busy, and chasing after various distractions. We are effective, and we are seeing tremendous impact, because we know what the mission is.

Further reading:

Retreat Talk about Communitas

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