Not all forms of conflict are violent by nature. Being in conflict with others is part of being human and may be healthy and needed for relationships to grow and mature. But unhealthy forms of conflict, or ways that conflict is dealt with or avoided, can be forms of violence.
When layers of a community are peeled back, basic human conflicts exist. How do we live together in community with people that come from a different economic background and outlook? Can we build community with people dealing with homelessness? How do we live in community with people from different cultural backgrounds and worldviews? How do we balance serving one another within our communities and loving our neighbors outside of it?
The challenge of answering these questions is one of the blessings of living in an urban community. Seeing God bring together people from diverse backgrounds and situations to form community is truly an amazing experience in which the spirit of Christ is alive and working, both through the individuals that are living in the community and the group as a whole.
Intentional community offers us a chance to grow in our relationship with God as we share our common life with our brothers and sisters in Christ. However, at its very worst, community life can become so disintegrated by conflict that harm is done to the emotional and spiritual life of those in the community. People put their own desires in front of the needs of others, thus causing alienation.
Through dealing with conflict in intentional communities, I have learned that each conflict is unique and solutions to conflict differ in each situation. However, a few commonalities have existed in each conflict that I have dealt with in community living.
We are all broken human beings.
Every single one of us has been touched by the stain of sin. We have areas in our lives which are broken. It is often out of these broken areas in our lives that conflict arises. Once we are aware of our own sinfulness, we are able to confess to God the ways in which we bring conflict into community. When we see it in ourselves, we can confess our shortcomings and ask for forgiveness from other members.
Once we are aware of how we are broken, we are able to understand others in the same condition as us. We are able to understand their roles in conflicts and forgive them for the way they have hurt us.
A community must be aware of its shortcomings to confess to each other and forgive others in order to grow and prosper.
Community is not the ultimate goal. Christ is.
Often communities get caught up in “being community” and lose sight of the real purpose behind community: to grow in our love for God and to strengthen our relationship with God.
Community is a means to this end, not the end itself. In communities, we often spend our energy trying to be the perfect community, taking the focus away from God and putting it on ourselves. Jesus must be proclaimed as Lord over the community, with our ultimate goal of worshiping, following and loving Christ both personally and corporately.
Selfishness harms community.
True community is found when we can remove our selfish desires and wants from community life. In the words of Jean Vanier, in his book Community and Growth: Our Pilgrimage Together:
“A community is only truly a body when the majority of its members are making the transition from ‘the community for myself’ to ‘myself for the community,’ when each person’s heart is open to all the others without exception. This is the movement from egoism to love, from death to resurrection; it is the Easter, a passage, the Passover of the Lord. It is also the passing from a land of slavery to a promised land, the land of inner freedom. A community is not just a place where people live under the same roof; that is a lodging house or a hotel. Nor is a community a work team, Even less is it a nest of vipers! It is a place where everyone—or realistically, the majority—is emerging from the shadows of egocentricity to the light of real love.”
—Shawn Delp is city director for the DOOR (Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection) program in Denver. He has lived in and guided young people in intentional communities.