Commitments come with losses. To make a commitment in one direction is to necessarily forgo a commitment in another direction. Increasingly, however, American culture has put a low value on commitment and we have seen it dramatically decline. The increasing fear of commitment compounds the church’s problems with community.
The fear of commitment has several potential sources. On the one hand there are those who come from broken homes. While divorce rates are diverse from state to state and are less than the commonly stated “half of all marriages,” there are still plenty of individuals who grew up in divorced homes. If you’ve experienced it you know the pain, drama, confusion, and frustration that can result from such contexts. Of course, sometimes divorce is right, but even the justification of it doesn’t remove the sting. The outworking of divorce on a culture, however, often raises doubts about the possibility of fidelity and loyalty. As Brandon Rhodes writes:
We tend to have a fear of commitment, a slowness to trust, and a skepticism about vows of any sort. The nagging question in many of us is, “How can I be sure this is where I’m supposed to be, and who I am supposed to be with?” … Why take vows, why commit, why give ourselves to the body of Christ, when our memories of divorce and separation remind us just how little power any vows actually hold. They didn’t work for our parents…(The Intentional Christian Community Handbook, 45)
We have not seen loyalty and fidelity modeled well and as a result many have not experienced it and therefore it becomes difficult to maintain commitments of our own.
On another note, younger generations have developed a great fear of missing out (FOMO). Arising from personal insecurity, there is a desperate need to keep your options open incase something better, bigger, or simply more significant comes along. To make one commitment is to necessarily exclude yourself from other commitments. Committing to a specific community means that I become responsible for things that I may not always want to do and with people I may not always want to be around. Committing to a specific community means that I will not be able to invest in every community or be with other people. We will miss out on somethings if we settle down with one community, there’s no getting around this reality.
Finally, a fear of commitment can arise from another form of personal insecurity: shame. Many of us struggle to join community because we fear the vulnerability that such investment requires. It is hard to open up, to be ourselves, to allow someone else to see the scars, skeletons, and sins in our world. We want to be the manicured presentations of ourselves that we put forth online. To join up with community is to open myself up to rejection, confrontation, and correction in ways that are hard. We want to be known, but we are also afraid of being seen.
As we seek to develop Christian community, then, we are going to have to address this fear of commitment. Christian community requires genuine commitment. You cannot be part of the community of believers if you remain on the periphery, if your investment is shallow and superficial, or if you are always ready jump ship when something better comes along. Real community will require that we overcome this fear of committing to one group. After all, God sets an example for us by being fully committed to His people.
God’s devotion to His own is so deep that Jesus is willing to experience separation for us. From the cross, He cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Matt. 27:46). The cry echoes the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 22 as he wrestles with his own feelings of abandonment. Jesus speaks these words to demonstrate that He has gone through our rejection in order that we might never be alone again (Heb. 13:5). God demonstrates His commitment to us in the most dramatic fashion, and then, He commands us to echo His love:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. (John 13:34)
Love as we have been loved. The love of God for us in Christ is displayed with serious devotion and commitment, even to the point of personal cost. Commitment is a feature of God’s love for us and should be displayed in our own community.
As we seek to rethink Christian community we are going to have to look beyond programs and formulas. We are going to have to confront and overcome our fear of commitment. Reflecting on the gospel is one major starting place to resist this cultural influence.