Published by Moody Publishers on July 6, 2021
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life
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I’m surrounded by people at church . . . so why do I feel so alone?
You show up at church every Sunday. You see people you know. You listen to a sermon together. And then you go home feeling just as isolated as you did before. What’s going on?
We all know that a church is supposed to be a community. The trick is to actually make it one. Communities don’t happen by chance—certainly not in our Lone Ranger culture that values independence and individualism. A truly Christian community must be built by intentional practices that allow for deeper connections, centered on the unity that can only be found in Christ.
In A Field Guide for Genuine Community, longtime pastor and discipleship trainer Ben Connelly shows you that the biblical model for community is the family of God. In twenty-five short, practical readings, he takes you beyond the surface and helps you learn to connect with your brothers and sisters as true family members. The church isn’t meant to be a collection of strangers. God intends for you to find a unified and purposeful household where you truly belong.
This well-written, thoughtful book encourages Christians to think beyond their church’s specific system for group gatherings to recapture a vision of being a “close spiritual family.” Ben Connelly writes from the perspective of a church-planting pastor who has seen people bond together in meaningful ways, sharing the rhythms of their lives together at profoundly deep levels. He hopes to share that vision with the American church at large, and he writes in a way that is accessible to lots of denominations and demographics. He also includes testimonials from different cultural contexts at the end of each section, showing how universal the core ideas are. This book does not prescribe a particular methodology for how to gather, but encourages people to go beyond the basic small group model to engage in members’ lives in a deeper way.
Balanced and Helpful
A Field Guide for Genuine Community: 25 Days & 101 Ways to Move from Façade to Family can be a solo or group read, but Connelly’s hope is that people will read this together to start changing mindsets and cultures within their communities. He organized the book into five weeks and twenty-five readings, and these sections build on each other, explaining why this is important, who your spiritual family is, and what life with an intimate group of people from church might look like. Throughout the book, he does a great job balancing theory and practical ideas, and he builds a strong foundation by introducing readers to historical and cultural movements that have shaped the modern American church in some problematic ways. He writes about these issues without a spirit of condemnation, and acknowledges both pros and cons within different approaches to church life.
I found this book very balanced, helpful, and encouraging. I appreciated the examples that Connelly offered from his own life, especially in terms of mentioning people by name who have encouraged him and helped him grow in spiritual maturity. He conveys the familial, supportive relationships that he and his family have built with other church members, and he provides practical ideas for how people can begin to move into deeper relationships with a close, diverse, small group of fellow Christians within their larger church community. He also provides advice for dealing with common problems, such as how to gracefully address others’ sin issues or deal with preferential differences between group members.
Connelly writes how to say goodbye when God calls group members to new things, but he never fully confronts the temptation for a “close spiritual family” within a church to become an exclusive clique. I wish that he had provided more advice for how groups can welcome new members, and he never really addresses boundary-setting. Near the beginning, he says that he will write about boundaries later, but he only mentions them in relation to sin and church discipline, not in terms of building trust.
In one day’s reading, he praises a family that loaned their new car to a couple they barely knew, but even though it was fine in that situation, this isn’t necessarily wise or appropriate. Connelly shares many better examples of people living in generous, open-handed ways, but even then, abusive people could easily take advantage of this group culture, and givers and receivers can warp healthy interdependence into codependency. I particularly cringed over a “101 Ways” suggestion that told readers to avoid accepting no for an answer when they’re offering help. Connelly’s point is that you should still provide help even when someone is afraid of imposing, but emotionally unhealthy people can easily misapply this advice to steamroll over others, interfering in their lives with the assumption that they know what everyone else needs.
Connelly’s goal is to encourage a vision of Christian community, not to troubleshoot every possible problem a group could face, but I wish that he had suggested safeguards against abuse and ways that groups can gradually build trust and avoid unhealthy enmeshment with other members’ problems. These issues are all very complex, and I don’t expect anyone to have perfect solutions for them, but I would feel more confident in this book if Connelly had fully acknowledged these potential pitfalls.
Despite these concerns, A Field Guide for Genuine Community is a great guide for pastors, small group leaders, and church members who want to move into deeper relationships with other people in their church community. Connelly casts a positive vision of what a close spiritual family can look like, and as he shares examples from his own background, he makes it clear that close, supportive relationships in the church are still possible, despite how far we are socially and culturally from the early church. The ideas and messages in this book apply to Christians of different denominational backgrounds and all life stages, and even though I wish that Connelly had provided clearer warnings against codependency and ways that close groups can go awry, I appreciate the vision that he casts for Christians living closely together in harmony, love, and mutual support.