Inspiring a Community of Belonging | Ep. 17
How is meaningful community formed? How can we join with the Spirit in making space for people to belong and be known? Listen in to a light-hearted discussion between Kris Gamble and his former roommate and friend from high school youth group, Joe Spiccia, as they discuss the origins of meaningful communities, they have both belonged to and helped to form.
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Joe Spiccia’s Bio: Joe is the Content Director at Fresh Harvest in Atlanta, Ga. He and his wife, Jordan, live with their dog Oscar and four chickens. Joe enjoys fishing, exploring new ideas, and getting absorbed in meaningful conversations with those around him.
Kris Gamble: Welcome everyone to the Relational Spirituality Podcast. My name is Kris Gamble. I’m your host for this week’s episode, and today I am joined by one of my good friends, Joe Spiccia, or Spix-ee-eye-ay as Siri likes to pronounce his last name. This week we are chatting around the theme of community. The Book of the Quarter at Larger Story is Real Church and it talks about what really is church and community therein.
Joe has been somebody in my life that has been an instigator of meaningful community, almost just out of what seems like the overflow of his being. Hopefully we can mine a little bit of his mind and dig into some of those stories and just see what God might have for us through this time.
I wanted to start off and give a little context. I met Joe about 20 years ago. I don’t remember our specific meeting, but we met at a church that we were attending and did the youth group of through all of our high school years.
We also, for the latter part of my high school years, went to the same high school and occasionally, and speaking of community, I’m a year older than Joe so a grade ahead of him, but some of my guy friends from church, as a part of what we just somehow fell into doing, we played poker many nights on the weekends throughout high school. Joe, I think you made it to some of those occasionally. Is that correct?
Joe Spiccia: Yeah, I’ve never won a dollar ever.
Kris Gamble: Well, yeah, we don’t condone gambling here anyway, so that is maybe a sign of your purity, Joe.
Joe Spiccia: Yeah, that’s what it is.
Kris Gamble: Joe and I were actually roommates for a few years after college into our late twenties and early thirties.
I would say that we refined each other into the godly men we are today, which helped us to meet our lovely wives. So, community is important because if you’re single, it’ll help refine you to meet your spouse.
Joe, as I mentioned, has helped form some communities, and I’m just going to briefly touch on them here and hopefully we’ll jump in a little bit deeper.
Somewhere after college, around 2014, 2017 ish, Joe invited myself and a bunch of other mostly single folks to a thing we called “Cabin Weekends,” where we would rent a cabin and just have meaningful community centered around the thing that united us, our faith and they were like at a lake or by a river and we’d go fishing and hang out, and it was really just a place that I felt like I belonged in my latter twenties. We have made such great memories and have such wonderful stories out of that.
Another place where really meaningful community happened was, around the same time, Joe and I were looking to move into the downtown Atlanta area, so he, myself, and a few other guys ended up getting a house. And that was a place where, for a number of years, we really got to spur one another on and be accountable and just talk about what different seasons we were in, in our spiritual journeys. It kind of became a place of a community gathering, where we’d have, you know, house parties, not like wild, crazy ones, but bonfires in the backyard.
In and around that time we were part of a men’s group that Joe also initiated, and that just took the whole community and spiritual formation and intentionality thing to a deeper level. So, that’s kind of why we’re here, Joe, is to learn from the master. Really, I’m just glad you’re here. We’ve thought through some questions to talk about and I’m looking forward to digging in with you.
Anything you want to say or share after that long intro?
Joe Spiccia: Yeah, I think so. So first off, I’m grateful to be on this podcast with you, Kris, and I actually call Kris, Cris-ph. I don’t know why, but he calls me Joe Spix-ee-eye-ay, I call him Cris-ph. There is like a lot of little consonants that get added in there at the end, so if you want to start calling him that, you’re totally welcome to. Kris has – he’s talking me up and all that stuff, but my first caveat is that I feel like a complete newbie when it comes to these things. I think part of that is actually because I’ve never done them just alone. When I think about all those stories you’re telling Kris, especially like moving into the house, Kris came to me and we met at Little Azio on Howell Mill Road in Atlanta, and he was like, I’m looking for some guys to live with, but I’m not just looking for just a roommate situation, I want a community.
I think there’s an element of Kris bringing this intentionality too, not just trying to live within a house, a place where you sleep and eat and all that stuff, but he wanted an actual community of people that were intentional about pursuing their faith, pursuing friendship, pursuing community.
I think there’s something that we will hopefully get into today, about, this isn’t all on one person’s shoulders to foster community. There is an initial initiative that’s taken by one or two people, but what I think really leads to these things is people realizing, I want this, and let me find some other people who also want something. We don’t even have to have a name for it. We just know there’s something that we want, and we hope it looks something like this. And then that drive’s there, that’s attractive, and other people want to be a part of that. And I was like, yeah, that sounds great. I want to figure this out, and I just knew a bunch of people who were kind of in a similar stage of life.
There’s multiple roles to be played in a healthy community. I’ve really learned that in this process of being friends with you, Kris, and all the other guys that we’ve met and lived life with along the way. So yes, I guess all that to say, I’m grateful and I love talking about community. I love dreaming about it and also living it, and I think that’s probably the most important part of it. So yeah, I’m looking forward to the questions and what we’re going to get into.
Kris Gamble: Thanks for sharing that. Yeah, it isn’t on one person’s shoulders, and I’m glad you made that distinction. So, jumping in, what is community, and maybe more specifically, what would you say is meaningful, effective christian community?
Joe Spiccia: I’ve been reading a book right now with a group that I’ve been a part of with my church here in Marietta, Georgia. I’ve read it a couple times actually, and I really have enjoyed the depth that it’s been pulling out of me. It’s called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. The author is Peter Scazzero, and he has a couple quotes that I’ll reference here, but this one came to mind. He said, “Community is not just a group of people who agree with each other. It’s a diverse group of individuals who are committed to loving and serving one another.”
I think it’s so easy to think about community as just, what’s fun and who are the people that are like me that we’re going to get along and have a good time together.
That’s a beautiful thing too, that’s just a very base level. I’ve realized that that’s not bad either, because it does lead to this other thing, which is committing a commitment to loving and serving other people. But I guess the diversity of a group as far as, we just don’t all agree on everything, we have conflict, that’s normal community, and I think it’s easy to shy away from that. I guess there’s a lot of different definitions of what community is and what it can look like, but that’s one that really stood out to me.
I think another really big one for me is that community is a gift from God. It is truly a gift of Him inviting us into sanctification. We’re all born into a family, which is like a type of community. Some of us aren’t in that family for long and other ones have an amazing family that we’re with for the rest of our lives. God gifts us either that type of family, or leads us into a family that allows us to see who we are meant to be.
I think that, for me, is what community is, is an opportunity and a gift to explore who God made me to be. In that process of identifying that better and better, as I get older and experience more community, I am able to do the same for other people. It’s this real back and forth, and it’s this cycle of this really beautiful gift that, the more we open ourselves up to other people, the more they will open to us, and the more we grow closer to God.
I think, obviously, there’s all kinds of community; you could have a really negative community too. That’s where I think the biblical version is something to strive for. A community that pursues the heart of God and allows God’s heart to pursue them. It’s a process that I think of, of God making us more like Him. He uses other people around us to do that, whether they’re totally different than us or they’re similar in their backgrounds and their personalities.
There’s a lot of thoughts there, but that’s my idea of community.
Kris Gamble: When you said community is a gift from God, I thought about how community is also a reflection of God, God being in community with Himself. And so when we are fellowshiping – fellowshiping is a christian-ese word for hanging out and having fun. But when we’re enjoying one another, we’re actually reflecting the joy that God has in Himself and it’s on display through us.
Those are some Larry Crabb derived ideas that I ascribe to. I also think community could be a label or a term that defines a group of people that are somehow interconnected; I’m in the community of Savannah, or the community of Wilshire Estates – which sounds much more fancy than it is – yet I might not really know anybody all that well in my neighborhood community. There is something about a biblical community that is worth digging into.
Joe Spiccia: I’m going to throw out a couple quotes here.
I had one more quote on this that is in line with what you’re talking about, but it was another Peter Scazzero quote from the book. He says, “We can’t grow in isolation. We need others to become who God has called us to be.” And that was sort of what I was searching for, that community is a catalyst for spiritual, emotional, mental growth. It is God’s gift to us in that way. From the biblical perspective I personally see this as God’s heart – like you’re saying – He’s always lived in community. God never had isolation with the Trinity. I think His heart is just that His creations that are made like Him would also be in community as well. So, defining that through scripture, I’m curious what you think about that.
Kris Gamble: Well, Hebrews 10:25 essentially says don’t forsake gathering together.
Also, Acts 2:42-47 is probably worth reading. “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
I think this is one of the best pictures of the New Testament church that we have in description.
A couple things that we can draw out of it: a biblical community is gathering and they are studying God’s word. They’re enjoying one another, and I think mixing in some food and prayer is an important part of a christian community. The don’t forsake gathering I think is just a call to not be isolated.
Joe Spiccia: I’m just thinking, how does that look for where we are in this culture right now? It can sometimes be difficult for me to distill down the Church of Acts to my life.
Some of those takeaways, like get together and eat food together, very basic things, right? But that’s the building block; we all need certain things, so let’s go do those things together. And then at the same time, there’s a deeper element of prayer in singing worship and of being intentional about worshiping the Lord and about pursuing God together.
Whether we’re going to read scripture, or we’re going to talk about scripture that we don’t understand and that we have problems with. I think there’s a really honest version of this for me. I don’t know that I am always there and ready to say, let’s go do a service project for the Lord today, or whatever it is; maybe it doesn’t feel like I’m hearing from the Spirit, or God doesn’t seem like He’s talking to me. But just being with other people and other believers, being with somebody like Kris – for me, in these settings there was a conviction level, there’s an intensity and a passion here, and there’s a newness to the perspectives of different members of the community that have always driven me closer to God, wanting to know God more, wanting to explore Him more.
That’s what Acts 2:42-47 really looks like in my life; being around others and letting the Lord use them, or letting Him use me in moments where my faith is strong. Kris, I think you used an example of this in our guys group at one point, an analogy of a fire and how some of us are really close to this fire and we are warmed by it, and we walk into a crowd where it’s colder and that warmth really reaches those people – other christians maybe, or maybe it’s not christians, but there’s something attractive about that. We want to be around the warmth. I think, trying to distill it down in my own experience, it’s often looked realistically like that.
Kris Gamble: One thing I love about you, Joe, is your humility and honesty; even now readily able to say, “When I picture community, sometimes it’s not as perfect as we see in the scripture here, and that is my reality and my real life.” And it’s everyone’s, it’s mine too. Nobody’s able to live out every time you get together studying the word and prayer and singing songs. I don’t even know if it’s necessarily that that has to be every time you gather, but a picture of some amount of their gatherings.
I wanted to just dig in on the same kind of theme about markers of biblical community, and popping over to another scripture, James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
I love this verse. It’s a hard verse because there can be fear and shame associated with sins, and there’s so much cultural baggage around confession and why do I need to do that? A culture that often touts accomplishments and independence. But I think good, biblical communities are, marked by the humility of confessing our sins.
This scripture is telling us such that we may be healed. It could mean a physical manifestation, but I imagine on some level it’s the release that comes from letting light shine on the dark places. In particular when you do that, doing that as – in Larry Crabb-ism – looking ugly in the face of love, realizing that you still are loved, even though you’re showing something ugly, is a healing thing.
Joe Spiccia: Yeah this is the verse that really takes community to, not even the next level, it’s the next level beyond that. I think there is a bit of a cultural stigma to the word confess. Why do I need to confess?
Let’s talk about it from a human perspective of being honest about where you are. Maybe you are doubting God or maybe you are struggling with some sort of sin that’s more overt; maybe you’re looking at pornography or whatever it is. There’s a tendency we all have to hide that stuff, to push it down and keep moving. I think that’s part of our Western culture, let’s just be productive, let’s just move through it, let’s not talk about it. But God invites us into that and He does that through community.
A lot of times, my idea of God has been shaped by seeing others confess and Him letting me see people humbly stopping and saying, this is something I’m trying to hide from myself and from others and from God, and I need to let it out there, I need to bring it into the light.
It’s so refreshing. I think, for me at least, to be a part of that where you can be totally honest – scary honest – you are taking a big risk by sharing something with other folks. And it is so rewarding to feel that moment of, we love you. I love you, even though you have all these things and you have these doubts.
That is God’s heart. If that happens in community, and I tell Kris something really hard that I’m going through and he accepts me and he loves me and he tells me he’s going to pray for me and he wants to be there by my side, that’s powerful. That shapes my vision of who God is and how He stands for me.
From a person to person perspective, it takes time to cultivate this, but it is so life-giving and so rewarding to be a part of a community that fosters honesty and confession to one another, and it just makes you want to confess to God because you know that He is the only one that’s capable of forgiving you, but also the one who loves you more than any anybody else.
Today I had a small group meeting with the guys group that I’m in, and we were talking about this weekend. I just had a tough struggle with my wife.We were having a hard time and we’ve had a hard time at various points in our relationship.
One of them reached out to me and said, “Hey, how can I pray for you?” She was about to walk through the door, so I’m like, “Oh gosh. Well, I need to be humble. I need to be calm. I need to not be defensive, which is my tendency, and I need to be straightforward and honest and I need to listen.”
And literally, they prayed for that and that happened, and there was just a real restoration for us – me and my wife – and there’s something about that. That in itself is a confession, I think. The way I’m thinking about confession is that if you would rather not tell other people about it, and then you decide to tell them, that’s a confession, whether you’re trying to hide something wrong that you did or just something that you’re struggling with.
Being able to submit that to other people and to dive into it, I think is an opportunity for God to answer the prayer in whatever way He wants to answer it. That’s us, depending on God, and it takes humility and that’s His gift to us.
Obviously, I’m passionate about this; being open and honest about where you are with other people and knowing that that is something that can really bring us closer together, but also bring us closer to our creator.
Kris Gamble: Right. Yeah. When we were back at the question of what is community, sort of three words we’ve added to our tagline for the Relational Spirituality podcast come to mind: belonging, being known and becoming. I think one of the things about being honest – confessing is how we are known in our good light, but also in our fallen humanity side. And how known are we if only the good side that we present of ourselves to others is held up, and that is all people see?
I chatted a little bit on my previous podcast about brotherhood, we chatted a bit about confession there, so if you want to get even more, check that one out. One of the other markers of community, and we kind of touched on it even in Acts 2, but 1 Corinthians 14:26. What then brothers, when you come together, each one of you has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, an interpretation. Let all things be done for the building up or the edification of the body.
I think edification is a goal of community. I think one thing I extrapolate out of this verse is that there can be different gifts that members of the body have and that we bring into the community and that they are to be brought for the building up of all of us. Some of that is singing hymns – we’ve had poetry reading nights – or just just reading nights together, lessons, sharing teachings of what God has put in our hearts.
Any thoughts there?
Joe Spiccia: Yeah, I think about our guys group that we had and we rotated who facilitated the group, and each time we gathered somebody new, they took us through something that they were learning or scripture of some sort. I think more than just, “everyone’s got to facilitate, that’s the rules.” I think what it did was it helped us understand ourselves a little bit more as individuals too. Think, what is my gifting? I think a lot of people don’t know that, and it is a great place to learn that in a safe community of other people to say, “You know what? I don’t really know what my gift is, so I’m going to try and facilitate or lead a conversation or I’m going to do something creative.” It’s a place to be encouraged in those things. Like, “Man, you really brought that, that was really helpful. I really took a lot away from that.”
That’s where you learn what your giftings are from the Lord, in that community. It’s okay to not come into it knowing like, what, what am I, what am I gifted with? because that’s part of the process of just being with other christians is like learning that about yourself, which is another gift really.
[00:27:58] Kris Gamble: Right. In Acts 2 they sold their possessions such that they gave to everyone that had need. It makes me think about the marker of taking care of each other and serving one another. To your point, as you are serving, you realize, “Hey, I’ve got a gift for this hospitality thing, or a real passion for reaching our neighbors.”
Great point to say that community is also just a place to learn what God’s deposited in us, and the way that we can serve and love each other as we seek to follow His commandment to serve and love each other.
As you said earlier, there’s a ton of scripture on community. 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up just as you are doing.” And Hebrews 10:24 just before the one that says, “don’t forsake the gathering,” says “spur one another to love in good deeds.”
Any other markers you want to share on?
Joe Spiccia: There’s just so much. I feel like these are all tied together. There is just so much commonality in each of these verses. But in encouraging one another like it says in Thessalonians and building each other up, that really ties in with confession if we’re going to be vulnerable and real. A way to encourage someone in that, is by listening to them, by hearing them out. It’s not trying to give them advice, it’s being there for them and encouraging them, “Hey, you’re not alone in this. You’re not the only one to struggle with this. You’re not the only one to have these questions,” or whatever else it is. That’s encouraging. It’s not always, “You’re a great singer.” There’s just so many elements of each of these verses that all just tie in together. I feel like a big part of it is just understanding God’s heart and being in a place with other people and letting that come out of you.
I guess that’s one of those things that you live and you see it happen. The mystery of community is there’s not a vision of community that is going to be accurate. There was one other quote from, I think it was Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together. He said, “The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.” Sometimes we can overcomplicate things. We can say, this is how it should be and I need to make sure I line all these points up. And that’s suffocating. People don’t need that to thrive. They need someone to love them to thrive and to know that they’re safe and loved and heard and listened to. So, if in doubt, simplify, and just try and love the people that are around you.
That’s a very broad point, obviously, but I think it can be easy to get lost in the shuffle. So, anyway, that’s my 2 cents on that.
Kris Gamble: Well, it makes me think of another verse, which is admonishing one another or exhorting one another. At the end of James it says, roughly, if you see your brother in error and correct them, you win your brother and save his soul, so to speak.
Not meaning you literally are saving him, but delivering him from that sin. There’s a place for correcting in love. It is loving to say, “Hey Joe, the way you responded to your wife just then wasn’t what I believe is how you actually feel about her.”
I am guilty of the same thing so many times, but I’d encourage you. There’s such a delicate finesse to correcting each other; there’s no formula for how any of these line up or are lived out. I loved your point about simplifying it by just trying to love.
Joe Spiccia: Even admonishing somebody comes with trust. To be able to do that for somebody, to say, “Hey, you’re in the wrong here,” that is earned, and you earn that through loving somebody well, listening to them, caring for them, and they trust you. All of that stuff really just comes back to the simple point of loving someone well, and that a good way to love someone is to correct them if they’re wrong.
Kris Gamble: It’s worth noting why community is important other than in a christian sense. It’s biblical and God inspired and all the points that we just mentioned to be known and be loved. But it’s also a place to exchange ideas if you’re in a diverse community, exchange culture, learn, and grow. I think one of the main points that I wanted to make here is something you said early in our conversation about how it helps us to become who God made us to be.
And it’s kind of intuitive to say that, but how does that actually happen? Just because you show up at community? I think, what’s underneath that? How do you become who you were created to be in community? That community is reflecting back to you how they’re experiencing you. So, you know, Joe, I experience you as somebody who has a gift for hospitality, A gift for allowing people to feel trusting of you and safe with you.
I think that reflection that the community offers back to us highlights and draws out things that maybe we weren’t even able to see ourselves. That self-awareness affords us the opportunity to cultivate those things or to change in the admonishing sense away from who is not our most truest self, which is the sin side of us, to our most truest self, which is the God-honoring side of us.
Joe Spiccia: I’ve learned so much about who I am in community, for sure, and who God has made me to be. It’s a gift that I don’t think you can get anywhere else. I’m not saying that people are God, but God speaks through people and you can hear God’s heart for you through people who are in your community. There’s discernment involved with that, of course, but it really does change how you see yourself, to be a part of a true community, a good community, a rich community where love is the baseline.
Also, in a very real way, there is opportunity with people you trust to say, “Hey, how do you perceive me?” That’s a really hard question to ask, and I’ve been blown away by people who have actually asked that of me. I have such mad respect for people who are willing to do that because it’s super vulnerable, but it also says, “I trust you. You’re a trustworthy person Joe,” and that means almost as much in itself as whatever I would share with them. So yeah, that’s a super cool element of community.
Kris Gamble: Getting a little more practical, how did these communities actually form, and particularly as somebody that’s been an instigator of community, what kind of thoughts do you have on that?
Joe Spiccia: If I think back on the house thing, I think it was you who said, “I want to do this and I want to do this in this way.” That really did inspire me and led me to, I think, take on more of that approach with my own desires of community in the future.
With the guys group, I remember feeling this deep desire to be growing in my faith and this conviction that my faith was stagnating at that time. I wanted something more than what I had.
Just listen to that voice which I believe is God saying, “This is who I’ve made you to be, go out and pursue this.” And then reaching out to other people and being vulnerable. It was scary, I sent an email out to 10 or 15 guys and just said, “Hey, here’s the thing. I’m feeling isolated. I’m feeling like I’m not pursuing the Lord. I love you guys and I want to get to know you better. I want you to know me. Is there anybody else who’s feeling that way?” It’s a vulnerable thing, to open that door, but, at least in my situation, it really paid off and it really spoke to other people who are feeling the exact same way.
I think a constant desire that people have is community, they just need someone to start it. That listening and then taking a step forward felt like the way that I’ve been able to pursue community, and then it ends up being this colossal, super meaningful thing in my life that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
So it’s totally worth the risk, I guess, is what I mean by that.
Kris Gamble: Was that email to 10 or 15 people, were those randos, or were those people that you had a decent depth of relationship with already?
Joe Spiccia: They were all people that I knew; some of them I knew really well, and some that I didn’t know very well, but mostly we knew each other. I would say that most of us have this fun element of, we love being around each other. It doesn’t have to be this challenging, hard thing necessarily, that I’ve got to put myself through this hard situation in order for community to happen.
I think in some ways it should start with, I want to enjoy other people. And in this case it was people who I already enjoyed, but even in that it still can be scary. It was a little bit, because you don’t want to put yourself out there, and then everyone’s like, “Nah, I don’t really feel that, I’m good or I’m too busy,” or whatever.
That’s part of my personality too, I can be a people pleaser and I really want people to like me, to agree with me. It makes me feel comfortable. So anytime I do that, it is a risk for me. But thankfully these are all guys that I knew and they were on board as well.
Kris Gamble: I’ve said this – maybe on another podcast, I can’t remember – that a currency of relationship is trust, and that maybe there was a trust coin out there that you had with some of those guys that you invited to cash in and say, “Hey, would you want to try this thing that may or may not fail?” It doesn’t necessarily have to happen with that currency coin of trust, but I think in church groups where communities form, there is a trust currency with the organization forming it that provides this stability for people who don’t know each other that well to be able to have some level of safety or the right ingredients to step out and try something new like this that can be risky.
I wanted to say that the email you sent casted a vision. Something that I think helps create biblical communities is a shared vision for what this thing is that we’re hoping to be a part of, belong to, and ultimately journey spiritually together towards.
I remember in those early days it ended up almost everybody you emailed showing up to the first meeting. In those first couple meetings we did do some vision casting where we were like, what do we want this to be? How do we want to structure it? Do we want to go through a book? Do we want to go through some sermon series? We somehow ended up on what you mentioned earlier, having a different person bring the Word, so to speak, each week. It was fun and beautiful and different. We did that for at least a couple years, meeting every Wednesday night.
Joe Spiccia: Yeah. With this group that I’m in now at my church, the point is to train us in how to have our own group that we will lead and facilitate, of other men. One of the things that our leader said was, we encourage and it’s a good thing to co-lead or find somebody else that you’d want to do this with. I think that is an approachable way that’s awesome. In something that somebody might think, I need to do this on my own and I need to be the leader, or there needs to be one leader. It doesn’t have to look any certain way.
There’s a beauty to, like you said, having a shared vision where me and Kris just get together and we say, “I don’t know if I’m going to do this on my own, but are you interested in this? I trust you and I know you, let’s both talk about it and figure it out. Let’s message some other guys that we know or whatever that looks like.”
There’s all kinds of ways and none of them are the right way.
Kris Gamble: I really like that point because Jesus sent the disciples out in groups of two – again, I don’t know that that has to be mandated to do it that way – But there’s a sense of accountability to staying true and one person not dominating when two people are leading out in that. In fact, two is a community of two that you are wanting to invite more into, in a sense. So, kind of multifaceted.
Joe Spiccia: Yeah. To some of the other points about how it’s formed, that shared vision obviously stands out.
The commitment is another piece that is tricky. I think that’s probably harder because you can’t make people commit to something, right? You can set up a structure and say, here’s what we’re going to do, are we all good with that? But we found in every group I’ve ever had or been a part of, there’s always people that will come sometimes and won’t come other times. Maybe there’s people who have bailed on groups in the past completely. And that’s just hard. It’s hard to deal with and it feels like your group’s falling apart or your community doesn’t have any structure to it. But it’s such a balance to be found; people have lives and they have their own things going on and their own agendas and priorities, but also we need structure if we’re going to make this thing happen. That’s where I do feel like either it’s co-leading or finding another group of maybe two or three other people who are on the same page as you, rather than saying, okay, I’m going to try and hold this thing together, because that is the burnout recipe for sure.
I think if anything, it’s more important to either be a facilitator for a church, so there’s that structure there that’s provided by your church, or you’re going into it with other people so it’s not just you trying to hold everything together.
Kris Gamble: To that point, I think the maybe more biblical or scriptural example, and I’m open to your thoughts on this, is that community exists within the context of a church such that the community is subject to the leadership and oversight and mentorship and vision of something bigger than itself. Again, it doesn’t always have to be that way. We had a wonderful community, some guys that all belonged to different churches coming together.
Joe Spiccia: My last point on how it’s formed goes back to honesty and a shared struggle. A really good community doesn’t necessarily have to be founded on, here’s the guy that’s got it all down, and then here’s the people who want to get it all down that are going to follow them. Oftentimes it seems like it’s almost the opposite. It’s, I am struggling here and I need help and I need community and I need more of the Lord.
That in itself will bring people together. And then from there, maybe there’s a common struggle or maybe there’s a group that forms to help someone else and that just leads to deeper community. Maybe it’s not a formal thing, maybe it’s an unstructured community, but that’s a good place to start too, I think.
Kris Gamble: Yeah. To that honesty and shared struggle, where have you seen community in your life done effectively and maybe conversely done ineffectively?
Joe Spiccia: I guess there’s been a lot of different versions of community.
Kris Gamble: Give us the juice, you know what I mean? Those raggedy institutions.
Joe Spiccia: The juice, yeah. I think a lot of times where I felt like this doesn’t feel like a good community to me is when it feels like there’s a really strong pressure to be there, and if you’re not, then you shouldn’t be a part of this group anymore. Or, the rules win, so if you don’t follow all the rules, then you’re out. Or, what we talk about has to be confined to these certain things. Again, it’s the structure versus the openness. I feel like what has most often gone wrong in my situations of community is structure gets way more of a priority and there’s just not any grace, and people don’t want to be a part of that, it’s just not fun and it’s not a picture of who God is and how He sees us. So I would say those are the main ineffective examples. I don’t want to name a particular group, but I think we’ve all been a part of a group like that.
I just, I do feel like there’s been so many versions of effective, but to me it comes down to, are we talking about what’s real here? Are we still enjoying each other? There’s a couple elements to it where we’re actually getting closer to each other in this process.
The guys group that we had was a version of, this is cool from a time perspective, – it’s been a couple years and we’re still meeting. How awesome is that? – but also from a depth perspective that we were able to get closer to each other and get closer to the Lord in the process and encourage each other and all those things we already talked about.
And then at the end to be able to celebrate and not be like, oh, it’s dead we’re not meeting anymore. God must be mad about this, or there’s something wrong with us. But to celebrate what God gave us in that period of time, I think is a sign that that was healthy; there was something effective about that.
Also, for a church facilitated group or a church sponsored group, the structure there that feels effective is that I’ve walked away with a feeling of, I’m cared for, I feel more known, I feel trusted that people want me to to be a part of this church on the whole, that they want me to lead in some sort of capacity.
I think there’s all kinds of different ways you can feel like it was effective, but the ineffective sort of comes back to the overly structured .
Kris Gamble: I’ve led some groups and I can have this tendency to try to over control the outcome or want to make sure that everyone’s sharing their story at some point, or that everyone shares, otherwise they’re not being authentic.
I think that pressure is such a good word. That pressure that people have to be a certain way, look a certain way, and the leader’s temptation to control it can quench the work of the Spirit
Joe Spiccia: Yeah, definitely. I think that’s a really good example. Another one is, do I feel listened to, or are people just vying to talk to get their point across? That’s a hard balance because some people are talkers and some aren’t. I think it oftentimes does come down to the facilitator or the leader and whether they’re able to navigate the different personalities in a group. That’s a really tough thing to do and I’ve seen it done well and I’ve seen it done poorly and I’ve probably been on both sides of that.
One last thing on that; I’ve been a part of a group that was what I would call transparent. And transparent is great. It sounds like you’re taking some risks, but really you’re just saying what is a fact or what is easy versus vulnerability, which is really taking a risk by saying it. That, to me, is what brings things deeper. Transparency is just surface level and pretending that you’re really going deep.
That’s a tough thing to distinguish and I think you can really only truly do that within yourself. That’s another one that I feel is ineffective as a participant in a group, at least you can say I’m really not sharing. I’m really not letting people know me even though I’m sounding like I am.
Kris Gamble: Another thought that comes to mind is asking questions and being curious. I think these are things that will draw out creating a space to feel heard. For people to be curious, but not necessarily leading so much as to where you think you want the conversation to go.
For example, if you shared something and instead of being curious and saying, can you share more about that? Saying, well, don’t you think that made your wife feel …?
Joe Spiccia: Yeah.
Kris Gamble: You’re asking question but you’re really just trying to make a point and that’s not curious.
Joe Spiccia: Yeah. And it’s not safe either. People will sense that. I shouldn’t share anymore because this is how it’s getting dealt with. So, yeah, that’s a big one.
Kris Gamble: Well, I think you’re somebody that makes people feel safe. I’ve seen people from all kinds of backgrounds and political beliefs and ideologies feel safe around you. I wanted to try to uncover, what do you think it is? Obviously the Spirit in you, and love, but what do you think it is that offers that safe place to people?
Joe Spiccia: Part of my background is that I have often felt unsafe. I felt like I needed to prove myself, so community for me was this sort of a safety net where – probably to some unhealthy extent – I found my worth in community. I think as that’s advanced, I’ve continued to really subject myself to other people and hear them take big risks with me.
That’s probably the biggest part from a human to human perspective is somebody saying, I’m going to share something with you because I trust you. Maybe I didn’t even earn their trust, but they were willing to go there. That helped me see what a catalyst for depth and richness and community with other people could be.
I think I’ve really tried to foster that in myself too as a result. Being a safe person I think comes from feeling safe, and that’s because other people have been that for me. It’s something that’s a byproduct of being a part of community with people who are healthy and know that you can be trusted and they can be trusted.
Kris Gamble: I think judgment is something that is not safe; judgment derived by thinking you’re better than somebody else because they struggle with X, and the reality is we’ve all fallen short and we all sin and we’re all capable. I don’t know if there’s particular scripture behind it, but I think we’re all capable of any sin given the right circumstances, whether it’s intoxication or just desperation. You know, who knows what we would do? We’re not above any particular sin, and if we go into group community or we go into relating and we have this pride or we have this judgment, that kills safety quickly.
I think humility and lack of judgment invites that safety.
Joe Spiccia: I’ve felt a fear of rejection for a lot of my life, and I think knowing that I’m not rejected by a person or a group of people, and that it’s not a one time thing for me. It’s been like a process.
Knowing that somebody’s not going to reject me because I tell them this about myself, that is what has allowed the door for me to be open to becoming safe in that way because it’s been given to me. Once you have that and once you see that it’s possible, you want to be that person for other people too.
I’m so grateful for those people in my life that have been non-judgmental of me. And you’re one of those people, Kris, for sure.
Kris Gamble: Well, thank you. The truth is, I’m often judgmental but I am not judgemental all the time and people see those times. Or I am being judgemental and it might be hurtful. Particularly with my wife, I judge her and she sees it and it stinks, but my goal is to not be judgmental. My goal is to be equal and equally as in need of a friend and of a savior.
Joe Spiccia: You brought up the point of marriage and I was thinking about that a lot because that’s something that I can forget is a version of community as well. Maybe not the exact version that we’re talking about in the broader context here, but people talk about the sanctification of marriage, it’s in the same way there’s a sanctification of community and friendship and all these things. What’s hard about marriage is you can’t escape from those deeper things in yourself, they just come out like they wouldn’t in other relationships. It has been such a good, healthy, difficult community for me in marriage, but I want more of that. You know? I want more of that with my wife and I want more of that with my friends because it’s sanctifying me. It’s chiseling out all of these things that I didn’t even know were in me. I think at the end of the day, if the result of community is that for me, then I want more of it.
Kris Gamble: Maybe one of my final thoughts here is, the goal of community is not to not hurt each other. It’s not to be perfect or look perfect. In fact, it’s almost the opposite. It’s to be able to be at the place where you can be who you actually are, which is broken, and therefore going to hurt somebody, and yet still being loved and received and forgiven and repentant and keeping that commitment to continue on.
Joe Spiccia: Yeah. Amen.
[Kris Gamble: Well, anything else you think we didn’t touch on? I mean, we probably hit everything that could have been said about community by now.
Joe Spiccia: Yeah, definitely. We didn’t even scratch the surface, but it’s a good start and I think it’s worth the time to think through, but also just to live; go out and talk to people and love people and know that community is surprising in the joys that it can bring and the growth that it can bring.
It’s the way that God intended it, for us to live in community. It’s a beautiful thing.
Kris Gamble: Well, thank you Joe for your time today; such a pleasure and I look forward to our next phone call when we do our micro community and catch up on our lives.
Joe Spiccia: Let’s do it soon, man. This is fun.Thanks Kris.
Kris Gamble:Thanks Joe.