Kyle and his wife Katie already had a child. Then another came along. Our community, known as Logan Street, in downtown Denver was growing. A steady stream of twenty-somethings, a mix of singles and newlyweds, started joining us in a life of intentional community. Our one duplex eventually extended to several dwellings along the same street. We shared housing, vehicles, food, and our lives together. We experienced a vibrant beginning, facing many inner-city unknowns which stretched both our faith and hearts. We were learning how to live life together and how to bring the transforming love of Christ to those who had been discarded by society.
A couple of years later, Kyle and Katie left the community. Among other things, they were now expecting another child. Besides, they felt like the odd man out: they were the only family. Rick and Helen, expecting their first child, also wanted out to be closer to Rick’s family. They too moved. We were saddened, but understood – it was kind of natural, we thought. In the meantime, more singles joined us. Then Jay got married, and moved to a suburban neighborhood more suited for raising a family.
Before long, our community dissipated. Somehow, community and family didn’t mix. We eventually disbanded.
Many years later, my wife and I found ourselves living in a similar setting as in Denver. This time it was in downtown Albany, New York. Our big Victorian home was right along one of the busiest thoroughfares in the city. It was also in one of the seediest neighborhoods. No matter. Our community was a mix of elderly, middle-aged, young marrieds and singles, and consisted of children of all ages. It was a bustling household, vibrant with life and chaos, but also committed to a life of complete discipleship. Some of us worked in our fledgling sign shop; others went to school; some worked at the nearby hospital; others volunteered their time at a nearby Christian clinic or at the Rescue Mission.
Life was intense. Even so, it never crossed our minds that our life in community conflicted with raising a family. I had learned something I didn’t know back in Denver: what is good for children is good for the community.
What is good for children is good for the community.
Part of the reason our community in Denver fell apart was that we were too darn “top heavy” with adult sophistication. Transience and lack of commitment didn’t help any either. Yet, what we mostly suffered from was an unfreedom born of our pride, of over-analyzing our problems, failures and conflicts, and of trying to be avant-garde and hip in the name of being relevant. Being childlike was not cool. Being “radical” was.
Had we children in our midst, however, and had we been committed to learning from them, our very small and complicated worlds may have been held in check. The saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” is true. But in God’s economy, it takes a child to raise a community.
I experienced the truth of this firsthand in Albany. Instead of long, arduous meetings of processing each other’s junk, instead of considering every possible angle on this or that decision, we adults, old and young, single and married, enjoyed being children together. That’s because the children in our household pointed us to Jesus. Consequently, we did lots of singing, dancing, playing games and pranks, reading stories, and going on hikes that everyone could manage. Our encounters with neighbors and strangers took on a different feeling as well: they were simpler and gentler, genuinely mutual and participatory. Our children somehow managed to draw out of even the most depressed and despondent that childlike gem in them, which so tragically had been buried under layers of sin.
The more we involved the children in our community the more joy and hope we experienced together. They wanted to play kickball or ice skate in the park across the street. They didn’t see the sordid elements. They wanted to dance around the may pole, play “run-around-the-house,” chase the Easter bunny, no matter that sophisticated techies and government workers surrounded us. It didn’t matter either if their play was in full view of commuters who were backed up trying to reach their cubicles in Albany’s government offices. They didn’t see the drunk, or the mentally ill, or the forgotten elderly – all those who regularly crept along the sidewalk outside our house. They saw people whom God loved.
This doesn’t mean life in Albany was stress-free. There were safety issues, and childcare at home was a huge commitment. Couples needed time together to process, and just to be. College students sometimes didn’t get home until late at night. There were heavy needs in the neighborhood that demanded our attention: the unemployed mother next door with her child; the delinquent teen who came over from across the hood every other day for food and attention; the autistic gentleman who lived down the street and wanted company; and so on. But the one thing that kept us centered, that kept our faith simple and focused, was the children.
When children are properly tended to, they give joy to those around them. This is what many intentional communities often lack. They work and minister hard, they live by lofty principles, they take great risks and make even greater sacrifices – but they often fail to experience the joy of sharing life together. When children are welcomed, however, when they are given opportunities to bring their natural wonder to the community, sharing what they experience, or singing a song they’ve learned, or reciting a poem or giving a report about a special experience, the renewing presence of Christ’s goodness is tangibly felt. Their happiness is infectious.
No wonder that in God’s kingdom, the “least of these” are the greatest. Community life is genuinely possible, but only if the qualities of childlike faith are honored and nurtured.
Adapted from Chapter 36, “Children,” in Called to Community: The Life Jesus Wants for His People, Plough Publishing House, 2016