On the Beauty of “Forced Community”

We ask everyone at Coram Deo to be involved in a missional community. People who object to this structure commonly complain that missional community is forced community. “It isn’t made up of friends I’ve personally chosen. These relationships have been imposed upon me. They’re not natural.” Or, to say it another way: a missional community is a little too much like a family. Which is, of course, quite biblical.

You don’t choose your family. Your family is chosen for you. And that is precisely what makes it such a formative community. G.K. Chesterton, with characteristic wit, writes:

The family is like a little kingdom, and like most other little kingdoms, it is generally in a state of something resembling anarchy. It is exactly because our brother George is not interested in our religious difficulties, but is interested in the Trocadero Restaurant, that the family has some of the bracing qualities of the commonwealth. It is precisely because our uncle Henry does not approve of the theatrical ambitions of our sister Sarah that the family is like humanity. The men and women who, for reasons good and bad, revolt against the family, are, for reasons good and bad, simply revolting against mankind. Aunt Elizabeth is unreasonable, like mankind. Papa is excitable, like mankind. Our youngest brother is mischievous, like mankind.

Chesterton goes on to apply these observations more broadly to our participation in community:

In a large community we can choose our companions. In a small community our companions are chosen for us… There is nothing really narrow about the clan; the thing which is really narrow is the clique.


If we were tomorrow morning snowed up in the street in which we live, we should step suddenly into a much larger and much wilder world than we have ever known… We make our friends, we make our enemies, but God makes our next-door neighbor. Hence he comes to us clad in all the careless terrors of nature; he is as strange as the stars, as reckless and indifferent as the rain. He is Man, the most terrible of the beasts. That is why the old religion and the old scriptural language showed so sharp a wisdom when they spoke, not of one’s duty toward humanity, but one’s duty toward one’s neighbor. The duty toward humanity may often take the form of some choice which is personal or even pleasurable… But we have to love our neighbor because he is there – a much more alarming reason.


…So long as you have groups of men chosen rationally, you have some special or sectarian atmosphere. It is when you have groups of men chosen irrationally that you have men.


[from GK Chesterton’s Heretics, chapter 11]

A healthy missional community, for all intents and purposes, is a “group of men chosen irrationally.” And that is what makes it beautiful and formative.

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  1. Bonhoeffer’s Life Together is brilliant on this. It is a fundamental misunderstanding of what community is to conceive of it as something that could be “designed.” That is something entirely different than Christian community.

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