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Existing and Thriving

2011 January 13
by Julie Clawson

During a recent conference call with the Emergent Village Council, Deth Im made a statement that has stuck with me. He said, “communities can exist for themselves but they thrive when a question arises that they don’t already have the answer to.” I love the idea because it so immediately rang true with my experience.

It is that difference between existing and thriving that stood out to me. I think most of us, and the communities we are a part of, concern ourselves with simply existing. Sometimes we exist to survive – to hold it all together and make it through the day. It is our needs and our desires that matter above all else. And at times simply existing is all we can do. If all we can do is survive, that’s just fine. But simply existing is not the same as thriving.

I know in my own life when I retreat into myself and concern myself with just what’s going on within the walls of my own house, I become a different person. I’m far more withdrawn, depressed and not very pleasant to be around. It takes concerning myself with something bigger than myself that helps me be the sort of person I actually want to be. Thriving means being fully alive – being filled with the passion and energy that comes from opening myself up to challenges, learning new things, and using my blessings to bless others.

From what I’ve experienced, churches operate the same way. I’ve been a part of churches that for some (if not most) of my time there have existed mostly for themselves. They are concerned with meeting the needs of the congregation – making sure they are fed (or simply entertained). They are concerned with the stereotypical butts, budgets, and buildings and spend a lot of time discussing why they are such a special community that everyone should feel blessed to be a part of. On one hand, all of that is part of what a church needs to do to survive. But sometimes going through these motions in order to survive starts to have a negative effect. The navel gazing – intended to strengthen and help the community – slowly and often subtlety leads to the withering away of that very community. All the energy turns inward leading to the corporate version of the depressed, apathetic, and listless person I described above. The body is surviving and pragmatically getting the basics done, but it is obviously not thriving.

What I find most disturbing is that the general prescription for this inward focused withering away is simply more self-care – better programs, a building-project, community meetings – making things bigger and better for the self. But none of that leads to thriving growth, it simply sustains and prolongs the slow death. And when there is nothing outside of the self to bring inspiration and new energy in, burn-out is quick. Like gardens, without the constant engagement with outside elements people and churches will never thrive.

When we engage with questions that we don’t have the answer to we are forced to move beyond ourselves. We have to face challenges, expose ourselves to new people and new ideas, seek solutions to complex problems, and use our resources in new ways. It becomes impossible to remain static when we must constantly wrestle with constant new input. Instead of withering away, we grow and in that sense, thrive. This is something I have to remind myself of after periods of inward withdrawal. I don’t despise such periods – everyone needs rest – but I know I can’t stay there if my desire is to be fully alive. And I’m beginning to see that churches can’t either. We are the living body of Christ – living things need to grow and thrive.

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2 Responses leave one →
  1. January 13, 2011

    I appreciate the balance of honesty (there are times when existing/surviving is all we can muster and that’s not necessarily terrible) and challenge (we need to be open to the risk of moving beyond our certainties and taken-for-granteds) here, Julie. Thank you for this.

  2. Corstar permalink
    September 9, 2013

    just happened to stumble on your page, wow thank you, this is exactly what I needed to hear today!! :-)

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