In interviews and meetings with Dallas Willard, I often heard him remark, “God is opposed to earning, but not to effort.” The difference is that effort is powered by grace, while earning is fueled by pride. The words of the Bible and the practice of committed believers through the ages bear this out. Becoming a Christ-like community that changes lives requires vulnerability, honesty, self-awareness, and the willingness to truly be changed by the Spirit and the Scriptures.
I am a big fan of Jean Vanier. In his book Community and Growth, Vanier describes what community does to produce change. I have used this quote in several resources because it so dramatically captures the spirit of life change in relationship, and the effort that will be required:
Community is the place where our limitations, our fears and our egoism are revealed to us. We discover our poverty and our weaknesses, our inability to get along with some people, our mental and emotional blocks, our affective or sexual disturbances, our seemingly insatiable desires, our frustrations and jealousies, our hatred and our wish to destroy. While we are alone, we could believe we loved everyone. Now that we are with others, living with them all the time, we realize how incapable we are of loving, how much we denied to others, how closed in on ourselves we are. . . . Community is the place where the power of the ego is revealed and where it is called to die so that people become one body and give much life.
Dying to self and becoming people of The Way will not be easy. We must stand on our identity in Christ, remembering who we really are, and what the gospel is doing in us. We must understand how the Word has the ability to shape us as we commit to the transforming practice of community life.
So indeed we make every effort—persisting in prayer, working through conflict, listening with intensity, serving despite weakness, and leading with diligence. In so doing we will not earn God’s favor—we already have that—but we will grow in grace, sharpen our focus, and reap the rewards of faithfulness, as Scripture promises.
Whatever we do, we must not do it alone. In community we will discover what real transformation looks like: ordinary people like you and me, meeting in average small groups, led by reluctant leaders, fueled by the transforming grace of God, and empowered by his Spirit. It’s a messy process, this community thing. And it takes effort. But the church—this ragtag group of spiritual misfits—is called to live in a community of oneness for the sake of others. And I, for one, am continuing to learn more about how to enter this community with honesty, humility, and skill.
—Dr. Bill Donahue is a Group Life Consultant, Leadership Coach, and Professor at Trinity International University. You can find more at drbilldonahue.com.
Please allow me a shameless plug to close, offering you a way to get the training needed to build transformational groups. Join me, James Bryan Smith, and other group life experts on Saturday, January 30, from 9–3:15 CST at Life Point Church in Smyrna, Tennessee, for the Irresistible Community Group Life conference and simulcast. If you can’t join us at Life Point, please host the live Simulcast at your church for your leaders.