One of the top trending Christian buzzwords today seems to be “community.” If it’s not community it’s “your tribe,” or the act of finding “your people.” Phrases like “Find your tribe. Love them hard” can be found embroidered on pillowcases and available for download as printable art. I can’t help but think that it’s becoming one more thing we’ve romanticized as Christians – One more thing that we think is going to make us more happy instead of more holy.

While I kind of like those cute and inspiring Pinterest phrases, I still long for substance, for someone to be real with me about trends and issues in our Christian faith. So when I came across a book called “Community is Messy” I bet that Heather Zempel was about to be pretty real about her experiences with “her people.”

Did you know there are folks in this world who devote their careers to small groups, discipleship and leadership in the church? You probably did, but just think about it… These people are tasked with building and equipping leaders to run small groups that exemplify the Biblical view of community. Bless their souls!

If you’re like me, you get a twinge of nausea when you think about small groups. Because dealing with people is hard, even if they laugh at your jokes.

But Heather Zempel has devoted over a decade to being the Discipleship Pastor at National Community Church in Washington D.C. – One of the most transient and politically charged cities in our nation. Again, bless her soul.

My favorite thing about Heather and her teaching is that she isn’t afraid to tell her readers she’s failed and that sometimes you have to blow up (or project Kaboom) an entire way of doing something to put yourself in a position for success.

community is messy heather zempelCombining real life experience with Biblical truth, Heather teaches the small group leader how to be successful. It’s about experimenting, about following well, leading well, being willing to open your home, to take a break, or to completely start from scratch. Successful discipleship happens when you give your people “wilderness with a map.” Most of us want to know where we’re headed, but want some adventure mixed in. Successful leaders let God be original with people.

I think the overall point is that discipleship is not clean, or a linear process. It’s a messy adventure.

And I love what Heather says in the beginning of this book: “The good news is that mess, when engaged rightly, can be the very thing that brings what we most want in groups: community and growth.” There’s that “community” word again. But she follows that statement up with some scripture and truth that I have to share as well:

“Proverbs 14:4 has become one of my organizing metaphors in regard to community, church, small groups or whatever circles of mess we find ourselves in: ‘Where there are no oxen the manger is empty, but from the strength of an ox come abundant harvests.’ You can have a clean barn with no animals in it, but you aren’t going to get much done without animals. Likewise, you can have a tidy church as long as no one is in it, but community requires that we show up. And showing up means bringing our mess.”

While I’m not a small group leader, these words resonated with me. This book encouraged me to bring my mess to my church, my work family, my friends, and my people. It challenged me to think about who I’m opening myself up to, who I’m challenging in my faith and who I’m allowing to challenge me. As Heather says, growing people grow people – And I want that.

You may not see an embroidered pillow with the words “Community is messy” on it anytime soon, but I encourage you to pick up this book to get new perspective on community and discipleship as Christians.