This month on the blog we’re talking about real community–how to be in a healthy place with people who love you and challenge you, and whom you can spur on to love and good deeds, too.

We’ve been talking about how to find healthy community, how to make friends, and what giving and accepting advice should look like in healthy community.

I want to add one more thing today, even though it’s not Monday, because a reader sent me this list and asked me to comment on it, and I thought it fit well in this month when we’re talking about community.

She sent me a list of the Duggar House Guidelines, which was up on the web in 2008, amended and enlarged in 2010, and then removed. Different variations of this list can be found online in the wayback machine (just search for http://duggarfamily.com/familyguidelines.html), and here’s a 2010 one:

  1. Always use soft words, even when you don’t feel well.
  2. Always display kind actions and joyful attitudes, even if you have been mistreated. Have the right response by quickly forgiving others in your heart even before they ask.
  3. Always be enthusiastic and look for opportunities to praise others’ character.
  4. Always deflect praise and be grateful to God and others for the ways they have benefited your life.
  5. Always use manners and be respectful of others and their belongings.
  6. Always do what is right, even when others may not, or when no one is looking.
  7. Thank God for how He made you, for what He has given you and everything He allows you to go through. (Romans 8:28)
  8. Don’t mock or put others down. Develop compassion and pray for others.
  9. Never argue, complain, or blame. Quickly admit when you have done wrong and ask for forgiveness (even if you were only 10% at fault). Don’t wait till you’re caught. Be sure your sins will find you out. He who covers his sin will not prosper, but he that confesses and forsakes it shall find mercy.
    Have a tough accountability/prayer partner to daily share your heart with and to keep you in line (your parents, spouse). The power of sin is in secrecy.
  10. Be attentive and look for ways to serve others with sincere motives and no thought of self-gain.
  11. Think pure thoughts (Philippians 4:8, Romans 13:14).
  12. Always give a good report of others. Don’t gossip! Never tale-bear unless physical harm will come to someone. (Use Matthew 18.)
  13. Never raise a hand to hit.
  14. Never raise a foot to kick.
  15. Never raise an object to throw.
  16. Never raise a voice to yell.
  17. Never raise an eye to scowl.
  18. Use one toy/activity at a time. Share!
  19. Do your best to keep your surroundings neat, clean and organized.
  20. Never let the sun go down on your wrath. (Don’t go to bed angry or guilty)
  21. Amendment J.O.Y. –
    Put Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last.

I don’t want to talk about the Duggars, really, especially since they did take these guidelines down (I think after a lot of criticism). But people did it send it to me, and I found that this list encapsulates a lot of the problems I see in certain Christian communities. So since we’re talking about healthy Christian community this month, I’d like to deconstruct just three parts of it today, in hopes that I can help us identify when our community’s culture may not be healthy.

It’s okay to accept praise

The rules say:

  • Always be enthusiastic and look for opportunities to praise others’ character.
  • Always deflect praise and be grateful to God and others for the ways they have benefited your life.

So we’re to praise others, but then we’re to deflect praise. That’s a bit of a problem (I can see the circular conversations: “You’re so good at that!”, “Oh, no I’m not really, it’s all Jesus!”, “But still, you’re so good!” etc etc.)

Is there a better way to look at this? Can you accept praise without becoming proud or conceited?

I think so. And i think it’s healthier to do that than to pretend that you are never good at anything, that your effort never really mattered. After all, God is pleased with us when we listen to Him and when we do interesting things, and I think it’s okay to feel His pleasure.

Yet how many of us find it uncomfortable when someone gives us a compliment, and we need to immediately try to show why it’s not a big deal or why they’re wrong?

I’ve found a good answer is, “thank you for encouraging me.” If it’s good to praise others because it encourages them, then isn’t it okay to accept encouragement?

God Himself wants to say to us one day, “well done, good and faithful servant.”

You don’t always need to use soft words

I find the emphasis on always saying nice things in a nice way is a little bit odd, because some situations do not call for nice words or soft words. Nevertheless, the guidelines say:

Always use soft words, even when you don’t feel well.

Yes, we’re to be gentle. But sometimes more than soft words are called for! Let me remind you of this:

Or what about this?


It’s okay to protect yourself

The person who sent me this list was most concerned with this final point: Telling people that they must never say anything bad about anyone else, unless it may lead to physical harm, is highly problematic.

Always give a good report of others. Don’t gossip! Never tale-bear unless physical harm will come to someone. (Use Matthew 18.)

What about emotional abuse? What about spiritual or verbal abuse? And what if the harm will come to YOU, and not someone else? What if it’s not safe to go to the person first, as Matthew 18 instructs us to do in cases of personal conflict? What if that would make the situation worse, or what if it would increase danger?

Then you need to protect  yourself and others!

Okay, now what’s the commonality in these three things?

In unhealthy community, being nice matters more than being good.

When everyone is nice to each other, then on the surface, things all seem to be peachy and rosy. And if we want to have a community where everything is perpetually peachy and rosy, then being nice (and saying soft words and never be seen to stick out and never speaking ill of others) is absolutely necessary.

But what if keeping things peachy and rosy is a really bad goal for a healthy community? What if part of the point of community is that there will be friction, because people are not perfect, and we all are different, and as we rub together we will make mistakes? What if it’s better not for everything to be peachy and rosy, but for everything to be honest with a large dose of mercy? What if honesty matters more than on-the-surface peachiness and rosiness?

And what if you actually are a precious child of God, and it’s okay to protect yourself, notice when you have been obedient, successful, or done well, and it’s okay to celebrate that? 

Healthy community does not need people to feel bad about themselves or as if everyone else is better than they are.

Healthy community requires everyone to realize that they are all made in the image of God, and to treat others as those made in the image of God as well.

It’s to realize that we, ourselves, have worth, and that others have worth, too. And it’s to help all of us reflect more and more that image of God–even if it requires treading on other people’s toes.

Isn’t that what Jesus is all about? He’s not about making things peachy and rosy, anyway. He’s about challenging us to go constantly deeper into holiness, and justice, and mercy. He said,

Matthew 10:34

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 

Sometimes that will mean soft words. Sometimes that will mean blunt words, forceful words, piercing words.

Sometimes that will mean being sad, being angry, being melancholy, and sometimes it will mean being excited, happy, and optimistic.

How do you know the difference?

Because we’re always focused on Christ.

That’s why I don’t have r for my life. I’ve tried to write them at different times, but it never quite works. What may be good for one situation is not good for another and doesn’t always work, because we’re messy.

So I tend to use three simple principles:

  • Spur one another on to love and good deeds.
  • Point others to Christ.
  • Be transformed into the likeness of Christ.

If we do these, we’ll be fine.

In healthy community, there is room for a wide range of emotions

And one of the other good things about this is that being like Christ acknowledges that there is room for all emotions. Emotions, in and of themselves, are not bad. They are signals of what is going on in the real world. When we deny our emotions, we’re often simultaneously denying something that is happening-we’re not allowed to speak the truth about something. But Jesus is the Truth. Truth is never a problem. As Marc Shelske says in The Wisdom of The Heart:

Healthy community encourages truth-telling, even if it means uncomfortable emotions or revelations, because the truth is not something to be feared. Truth takes us closer to Christ.

In unhealthy communities, though, appearance is what matters, so everyone must conform to a certain way of doing things, and must not rock the boat.

Healthy Christian Community vs. Fake Community: The Duggar Family Guidelines

Some challenges to you if you want to walk in healthy community:

  • Practice accepting compliments–“thank you for encouraging me.” “That’s nice to hear.” “That made my day.” “I appreciate that.”
  • This week, say what you actually think in a situation where you may be tempted to just use soft words.
  • If you hear that someone in your community is being harmed, speak up. Don’t assume someone else will!

Do we understand the difference between nice and good? What do you think of these guidelines? Let’s talk in the comments!

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