In my exploration of why men are missing from the Church (see “The Church’s Missing Men“), I touched on the issue of work, showing how the intersection of work life and everything not work is simply not occurring in a reasonable way with many men. Church and parachurch organizations heap increasing loads of requirements on men already burdened with record levels of work time as they strive to avoid the next downsizing.
The Church must find a way to shield men from having to bear this burden alone. It must find ways to free men—and women for that matter—from their time traps, giving them the time they need to do all the things that are asked of them.
One way to break this cycle of pressure is to rethink community and work, two profoundly important issues the Church in America is not addressing well. The early Church provides insight here:
And all who believed were together and had all things common. And they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, according as anyone had need. And continuing with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they shared food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:44-47)
I believe that we in the Church are suffering from a massive overload of duplication. Each of us has become a little island unto ourselves (families, too) and it results in an astonishing amount of wasted time and money.
My own family’s situation is informative. I live in a rural area. My neighbors and I all have some decent-sized acreage. To handle this, each one of us has a farm-sized tractor. I use my tractor about once a week. The rest of the week, it sits in my pole barn. My property has a couple hedges on it. Since they are large, they need a good trimmer to keep them in shape. I trim them a few times a season. Since I didn’t have a cordless hedge trimmer, I went out and bought one. Now it hangs in my pole barn 362 days a year, rusting.
Every day, I prepare dinner for three people. Then I clean up that meal. Meal prep, shopping for the food, and cleaning up afterwards consumes a considerable amount of time every day. And this is repeated three times a day, every day.
When I go to the market, I pay for various items of food. That food incurs a markup consisting of money above the cost of production. In the grand scheme of things, that markup is money that I have essentially “lost” to the market.
Goods are not the only things that are infrequently shared: I have practical skills and so does my neighbor, yet rarely do we call on each other for those skills.
What I am getting at here is that we in the Church are doing a very poor job of handling the money, time, and skills God has given us. Everyone in every church across the land duplicates effort every day at an enormous cost of keeping each family’s little island an island.
When we talk about community in the Church, we simply do not understand what is at stake. As long as I have been a believer, I have seen all kinds of communities, but very little community. Our lack of reliance on God (since we usually have cash to pay for anything that faith would ordinarily cover) translates into a lack of reliance on others within the Body of Faith.
We do not see how pressing the need for real community is. I believe the Church has to start girding itself. I think that tax exemption for churches is going to go away sooner than we think and a lot of worshiping bodies are going to find a financial millstone—their church building—around their necks. There is no reason to believe that the next time the economy tanks we won’t see the same layoff situation that plagued millions during this last downturn. In fact, those cycles of boom and bust may become more frequent, with the busts outlasting the booms each time.
To this, the Church must have viable solutions that address the real needs of real families. The answer must come from our living out a vital community.
I think that we need to start encouraging sets of four to six families to start living in little sub-neighborhoods, either within an existing community or by building one together. A mature group of Christian families could buy a large plot of farmable land, build a few decent-sized houses and a common building, and live together in community, replicating the pattern across a metroplex.
In the planning stages for the community, families could work to combine sets of skills so that certain members of the community would work in “regular” jobs, some would farm the land, others would take care of the kids and teach them; with this, the duplicate items, time, and effort could be eliminated. Meals could be shared in the common building and cooked on a rotating basis or, if agreed to, by whomever wants to do the cooking all the time. Each family would have an agreed upon amount of money for its own needs, but also contribute to a common pot that would be used not only as a “tithe”, but also to buffer the community itself in the event that people lose jobs (and also to help fund the farming and the family, or families, that perform that role within the community.)
In these communities, money could be saved by eliminating duplicate items. Fewer vehicles would be needed. Childcare is concentrated and homeschooling materials are not duplicated. No need for each family to have items that sit and gather dust—everyone can use them. Having the agriculturally productive land helps feed everyone in the community and the overflow of that can be brought into the larger church community. (It also helps if food distribution gets dicey some day through terrorist attacks, persecution of believers, or other disaster-related events.) A variation on this would be to have a community of all farmers supporting a community of all city workers and vice versa, though there might be distance issues to work out.
Families in our churches struggle needlessly because they are attempting to be islands. The amount of money alone that can be saved would be extraordinary. We could all live with less and be happier. The buffers for those who get down on their luck would actually work, rather than being merely talked about. And most of all, I truly believe that such communities would not only dramatically lessen the amount of time each of us spends each day rushing from place to place doing work to keep our island an island, but I think that this would free people to do the one thing none of us seems to be doing very well: taking the necessary time to draw near to God.
We’ve ratcheted everything up tighter than a watchspring and we cannot keep on jogging on a speeding treadmill without an imminent collapse. The Church has got to find ways to live in real community and also solve the problem of the increasingly frenetic job world if we are to be what Jesus intended us to be.