Jon Trott of the Jesus People (USA) on the idolotry of “community”

Religion / World Mission

I stumbled across this interview with Jon Trott while surfing the web this morning waiting for an appointment. Trott was one of the founders of the “Jesus People” which began in the sixties, achieved national recognition in the seventies (at least I remember reading about them) and today represents a network of people living in intentional Christian community in Chicago.

The interview in Christianity Today is about the lessons he’s learned along the way as he’s struggled to find sustainable models for Christian community. He talks about how younger folks are using different sources (like the Rule of St. Benedict) to augment the tools that his group initially had.

I was particularly struck by this quote from the interview sounding a note of warning:

“Community can become its own goal. So the biggest thing I’d warn anybody about community is to not worship it. A community does not exist for itself. It’s there for others. I think Dietrich Bonhoeffer is the one who said that if a community is not for the world, then that community is no earthly good. In other words, community is ultimately a tool for ministry.”

Read the full article here.

There’s something to be said for this warning. It’s a recent trend in the Church, and in the Episcopal Church especially, that community for its own sake is the rationale for the life of the parish. Creating community so that people have a place to call home is wonderful thing and, as the mega-hit “Friends” demonstrates, a common need felt by young urban professionals that the Episcopal Church often attracts.

But Trott’s got it just write when he warns that community just for community’s sake is a form of idol worship. (Or Bonhoeffer had it right if you prefer.)

One of my mentors, Fr. Karney, used to say that a church couldn’t be a church if it didn’t have someone to love. I’ve found that he was absolutely right more times than I care to remember. Sometimes in very painful ways.

That’s part of the motivation I suppose for the Episcopal Church’s involvement in the MDG’s. I just hope we remember that the MDG’s are, for the Church, a means to an end and not the end in and of themselves.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. Community as an idol explains both B033 and the “Anglican Covenant” (which is neither.)

  2. Don Smith says

    In other words, “Community” is method, not mission (or, if you’d prefer, process, not purpose). It’s something we are, rather than something we do – a definition, rather than a destination. (I could go on all day, but I’ve got a paper to write…)

  3. Paul Martin says

    My experience is that community is never realizable as a goal in itself. Community occurs as a byproduct of pursuing a real goal. I have seen this in political campaigns and in engineering teams, less often in churches. The military is pretty good at this, too, but they call it unit cohesion or something like that.

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