Through Disillusionment to Depth: Discovery on the Journey of Community in Christ

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Written by Dr. John McNally
Here We Go Again

As I prepared for our first Winter 2022 weekend intensive course in New Brunswick, we needed to shift online to pivot for pandemic protocols. A winter storm was rolling in, too, so an onsite class was unlikely anyway.

I muttered to myself, “Here we go again.”

If such small shifts can be unsettling, how much more so for the incredible losses faced by so many people during the global pandemic, raging wars, rampant injustice, and so many forms of suffering?

As I started working through a wave of discouragement and a small sense of disillusionment with my dreams for an ideal class, I realized the irony that initial readings for our course, “Faith Development Through Small Groups,” included these wise words from Life Together. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes these rich reflections on community dynamics in chaotic times:

On innumerable occasions a whole Christian community has been shattered because it has lived on the basis of a wishful image. Certainly serious Christians who are put in a community for the first time will often bring with them a very definite image of what Christian communal life should be, and they will be anxious to realize it. But God’s grace quickly frustrates such dreams. A great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves, is bound to overwhelm us as surely as God desires to lead us to an understanding of genuine Christian community…Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial. [1]

A Wishful Image

Ouch! While it may be tempting to resent this remark, I admit that I have resembled it on more than one occasion. In twenty years of pastoral ministry and several years of teaching at ADC, how often have I tried to gather people around a wishful image or an idealized dream that hindered deeper relationships with Christ and with one another?

What about you? Have you ever had a pet project that petered out, a carefully-crafted vision statement that flared and then faded, a seemingly worthwhile priority becoming a fixation that floundered, all of these straining both teamwork with one another and with God?

Maybe you too periodically protest that intentions were “ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.” We may even insist, “If people only knew how much time and effort that I made for the dream!”

Bonhoeffer writes words of wisdom that reframe these discouraging dynamics:

Therefore, will not the very moment of great disillusionment with my brother or sister be incomparably wholesome for me because it so thoroughly teaches me that both of us can never by our own words and deeds, but only by that one Word and deed that really binds us together, the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ?…Christian community is not an ideal we have to realize, but rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate. The more clearly we learn to recognize that the ground and strength and promise of all our community is in Jesus Christ alone, the more calmly we will learn to think about our community and pray and hope for it.[2]

Rather than grumbling about my frustrations, I ask myself:

  • How can prayerful relinquishment of my expectations put me in a place to receive the Spirit’s empowerment?
  • How can this pattern prompt my prayer practices and hope for community, not based on my own dreams and efforts for Christ, but grounded in and through the strength of “Jesus Christ alone”?
Letting Go of Artificial Dreams

As I pondered this pattern, I recalled a resource that my wife and I used for marriage enrichment years ago. Christian counselor and seminary professor, David Augsburger, described various “passages” in a maturing marriage. The profound progression pictured in one chapter stuck with me:

Dream—Disillusionment—Discovery—Depth. We marry to fulfill the Dream—personal, marital, vocational and communal dreams. The Dream fails us—or we sacrifice the marital dream to gain the career dream or some other dream. We discover reality beyond the Dream; we discover each other. We develop depth in ourselves, our marriage, our life together.[3]

With such reframing, the journey to community in Christ moves through disillusionment to depth. As we let go of our artificial dreams, we discover deeper, more genuine relationships in and through Jesus Christ.

In a sense, this echoes the Emmaus experience of Luke 24. As Jesus met the disillusioned disciples on the road, with broken hearts, they shared their shattered hopes and broken dreams.

Verse 32 tells of their transformation:

“They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’”

After seeing Christ as both Suffering Servant and Resurrected Saviour, they join Jesus on mission with a burning heart for a fresh start. With Scripture-shaped transformation in and through Jesus, these early followers work through disillusionment and discover deeper discipleship and empowering leadership, not just for the Lord, but with the Lord.

Whether you are a recent graduate, a current student, or connected to ADC in another way, may you experience Jesus guiding you through disillusionment to depth. Let’s pray for the Spirit to spark our expectancy for discovery on the journey of community in Christ.


[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, Reader’s Edition, 2015), 9-10.

[2] Life Together, 11, 13.  

[3] David Augsburger, Sustaining Love: Healing & Growth In the Passages of Marriage (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1988), 70.

Rev. Dr. John McNally serves as the Director of Mentored Ministry Program, and as Assistant Professor of Practical Theology at Acadia Divinity College. 

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