​The Revd Kim Beales says Christian community
is about God doing something extraordinary
in a bunch of ordinary people.
by  Kim Beales
The great danger for young Christian adults is to love their own projections of what the ‘perfect church’ should be more than the church itself, argues Kim Beales. Inspired by the faith and insights of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Pastor executed by Hitler, he urges young Christians to let go of their wish-dreams and embrace the reality. 

Around the world, the church craves insights for how best to engage, equip and mature young adult Christians. In my six years of work as a young adults’ pastor, I have come across one insight that outshone the rest. It comes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s brief yet immense book on community, Life Together.

Dreams and disillusionment

Young Adult Christians often have great dreams of Christian community. I have had the privilege of listening to many people’s hopes and dreams. Many young adults have a dream that the church will be a place of justice. These young adults seek out work with refugees and other marginalised people, and spend their free-time advocating on behalf of the poor. Others have the dream that the church will embrace prayer, walk closely with God and use charismatic gifts. They desire to be a part of a church that is alive, with a strong sense of the presence of God. Other young adults dream of an inclusive church: a community that overcomes boundaries of race, age, ability, wealth, and status. Prod a little further and one also discovers self-centred dreams: dreams of being part of a like-minded church, without the personalities that jar, and hope for a church that somehow eradicates any experience that might remotely create a feeling of awkwardness.

Disillusionment with the church among young adults is rampant. A simple question cuts to the heart of this disillusionment: Does your dream of Christian community make you dissatisfied and disillusioned with the church? Those who are wonderful at working with refugees despair at others who fail to embody a strong social conscience. Those who love the gifts of the Spirit grow disillusioned with the lack of spiritual faith and expression in their community. Those who desire church to be ‘cool’ or stylishly acceptable are put off by the odd collection of folk the church attracts.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

In the face of this disillusionment that most often results in young adults becoming disconnected with church communities, no single word of advice has been more helpful than the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, written to his illegal seminary in Finkenwalde, amidst the Nazi regime and published in 1938. Bonhoeffer wrote: “He who loves his dream of a community more than the community itself, becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.” (27).