Alike or Beloved? The Tension of Community and Conformity

Dear Safari Sharers: 

I had a great time at VBS this past week. As pastor, and as one of the designated “floaters”, I had the privilege to wander the building to make sure kids were safe and help out where needed. This gave me the chance to see all the groups in each station of our Prayer Safari. Watching children of various ages, abilities and personalities participate in crafts, Bible stories, games, outdoor activities and oasis conversations was a study in the difference between community and conformity. (This is what you get when you hire a pastor with a degree in sociology.) 

It’s easy to confuse the two. We prefer conformity because it seems to be so much easier to manage. When children, or adults, line up, follow instructions, focus on the same task and sit quietly on command, there’s very little a leader needs to do. If conformity becomes the highest priority, those unwilling or unable to participate in a task are seen as problems, enemies of uniformity. A mental circle is drawn around those who equally meet expectations; they’re the good kids. Those outside of that circle quickly discern themselves to be somehow defective. The defective either work to hide their differences (why are you crying?) or double-down on individuality (stop dancing during Bible story!). In either case the leader is focused on task orientation and on the boundary between the conforming group and the misfit individuals. 

If, on the other hand, the priority is community, the leader’s focus is not on the job at hand, but the inclusion of the individuals involved. The goal becomes shared, not uniform, participation. Community starts with the assumption that the only circle that matters is one big enough to include everyone in the group. Those unable or unwilling to participate in the group task are not shunned or shamed for their differentiation; they’re encouraged to find their connection to others. Community bonds; conformity binds.

Yes, community may not be an efficient way to accomplish tasks (those lanyards aren’t going to tie themselves!), but I don’t think VBS is about meeting craft-project production quotas. 

When Jesus called the twelve, we are told he included Matthew the tax collector (Matthew 9.9) and Simon the zealot (Luke 6.15). One couldn’t imagine greater diversity. Zealots were dedicated to the overthrow of Roman rule by any means necessary. Tax collectors enforced tribute to the Roman army; they funded the oppression of the zealots. Jesus spent no time choosing sides, but instead constantly spoke of the importance of caring for one another, commanding them to love one another without discriminating between their vast political differences 

In the end, VBS/VCT was a great success! Some children found moments where their differences were not perceived as defects; even with their annoying ‘counterproductive’ behavior, they were included in community. They, too, were disciples. 

Unfortunately, we fell way behind our second quarter lanyard production targets.

Musing as I float, I remain,

With Love,
Jonathan Krogh
Your Pastor