I’m teaching a course this semester called “Church Leadership.” It seems as if the definitive book on the topic comes out every week or so, and we’ll read a few of them. But the book to start with, I’ve decided, is Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. Written as a kind of handbook for leading and living in Christian community, and rooted in Bonhoeffer’s experience of teaching in an underground seminary during the Third Reich, this thin volume is thick with wisdom and timeless insight about what it means to cultivate cruciform discipleship in the times in which we live.
Christian community is like the Christian’s sanctification. It is a gift of God which we cannot claim. Only God knows the real state of our fellowship, of our sanctification. What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God. Just as the Christian should not be constantly feeling his spiritual pulse, so, too, the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be constantly taking its temperature. The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases.
Christian brotherhood [sic] is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate . . .
. . . Life together under the Word will remain sound and healthy only where it does not form itself into a movement, an order, a society, a collegium pietatis, but rather where it understands itself as being a part of the one, holy, catholic, Christian Church, where it shares actively and passively in the sufferings and struggles and promise of the whole church . . .
. . . It is precisely in retreats of short duration that the human element develops most easily. Nothing is easier than to stimulate the glow of fellowship in a few days of life together, but nothing is more fatal to the sound, sober brotherly fellowship of everyday life.
There is probably no Christian to whom God has not given the uplifting experience of genuine Christian community at least once in his life. But in this world such experience can be no more than a gracious extra beyond the daily bread of Christian community life . . . We are bound together by faith, not by experience.
Life Together, 30, 37-39