In this last post in the series “Being the Body,” we’ll look at a few more ways that our churches can better grow the community of believers within them.
#8 – Our communities should regularly enjoy a real communion feast together.
Folks who have studied the communion meals of the early Church come away with one truth: they were true feasts. Not the thimble of grape juice and a portion of a cracker, but entire meals in which the sharing of the bread and wine was the high mark.
We need to encourage our churches to prepare this kind of feast at least once a month. In fact, the more meals we eat together as a church, the more we’ll grow to know each other.
I would also encourage these real communions services to be a time when people share what Christ has done for them (since the last time a communion meal was held). We need those stories of faith to build our own faith, but we seldom get to hear them enough for them to do any good. This would also be a time for the entire church to pray for individuals in need. We could hear the need, pray for the need, and use that time to meet the need right then, if possible.
#9 – Those of us in community should always keep an open home.
A community is not closed. It’s always open to others. It’s 24/7/365, too. Because our homes are the Lord’s and not ours, we need to always make them open to others, be they part of the community or not.
We can’t let the fortress mentality so prevalent in our country today keep others out of our homes. Our homes are not bunkers, but stations of ministry. Our mission field starts within the walls of your house and mine. If we’re not making our homes open, then we’re despising God’s gift to us.
We’ve got to get over having each room perfect, too. If you’re house is a little messy, who cares? Real homes are messy to some extent. We’re not supposed to live in museums. Obsessing over a home’s cleanliness speaks more about our fixation on the material rather than loving people. Better that a house be filled with love for everyone who enters it than it be spotlessly clean.
(See sidebar category listing “Hospitality” for more on this.)
#10 – As a community, we must find a holistic Christian perspective on our employment.
We have no excuses: we spend too much of our day devoted to our means of employment. If you’re a regular reader, you’ve heard this before, but unless we Christians rethink the way we work, we will forever have the Lord third or fourth in our lives. We need a revival of Christians seeking God for ways to drop out of the rat race and still provide for our families. Since we’re making community a priority, these issues should be discussed by the community.
We must also rethink unemployment. As a community, we are responsible to ensure that no brother or sister in the community goes without work if they need it. Despite the fact that today’s jobs are much more specialized than in ages past, we must ALWAYS draw alongside anyone seeking work and actively help them find a job. Our community is diminished by letting the unemployed search for work alone. If we are not dropping at least two dozen leads for each unemployed person a week, then we’re shirking our responsibility. The Bible commands that we work, therefore we are compelled to provide or seek work for those in the church community who need it. And we don’t stop helping until they get it.
(See sidebar category listing “Work” for more on this.)
#11 – True community makes ministering to the “weaker parts of the Body” a priority.
And who are these? The single parents, the elderly, the mentally ill, the sick, the developmentally disabled, and the families of those people.
An exceedingly powerful way to tell how vital a church truly is would be to examine how they deal with these folks. Are people ashamed of the mentally retarded teen, or do they go out of their way to incorporate him in the life of the church? Do people volunteer to take care of him so his parents can have a couple nights out to themselves each month?
Same goes for the single mom or dad. Some churches treat them as if they’re an embarassment rather than ministering to them as Christ would. If their singleness bothers us, then we should be routinely watching their kids so they can get out and meet a potential mate.
Real community always considers the weak and asks what can be done to bless them or their families. It’s one of the perpetual thoughts of people who esteem others better than themselves.
#12 – True community is never afraid to be countercultural.
Being a community flies in the face of everything we hear daily as Americans. Thinking of others first does not come naturally to the natural man, but to the spiritual man it is the core of his ministry. If we fear Man, we should not be servants of Christ.
For this reason, we must pursue real community in the Body of Christ even if the world fights viciously against our desire to do so—and it will, because the world is passing away. But the communion of saints is eternal! What we begin here in our church communities is the groundwork for something that will never perish. We must always remember that our fitness as a community will reflect in the afterlife. God gives us our time here to fit us to heaven, and if we’re not living in a godly community that stands apart from the world’s individualism, then we are not being good stewards of the time the Lord has given us.
The bottom line of community is this: we can continue to live as randomly scattered body parts that accomplish little for God’s glory, or we can be the vital Body of Christ living in countercultural community. God demands the latter of us when we come to Christ. Yet our American cultural mandate is anything but community-focused.
We Christians in America must rethink everything we’ve assumed about community, putting it under the authority of the Scriptures as illumined by the Holy Spirit. That we’ve failed to do so even the slightest bit speaks against the American Church’s obedience to the very principles God lovingly gave His people.
I believe that nearly every vice in our churches today can be traced back to a flawed understanding of what it means to live in true community. We are the Body of Christ. To live as a Body, we must make life-changing decisions. Time is short, so we must start being real community or God will judge us for it.
So do more than consider the twelve ideas presented in this series, start living them out. And go before the Lord and find even better ways to live out community. What I’ve laid out here is a mere sketch of what can be done
Have great week and bless others.
Posts in this series:
- Being the Body: The Necessity of Community in the American Church
- Being the Body: How to Forge Real Community, Part 1
- Being the Body: How to Forge Real Community, Part 2
- Being the Body: How to Forge Real Community, Part 3
- Being the Body: How to Forge Real Community, Part 4
- Being the Body: How to Forge Real Community, Part 5 (Conclusion)
(Image: Still from the movie Babette’s Feast, 1987)
11 thoughts on “Being the Body: How to Forge Real Community, Part 5 (Conclusion)”
Along the lines of hospitality and such, I had a bit of a radical idea the other day: what if we tithed not only on our income, but also on our meals and on our home? As in, for the home it might simply mean having two kids share a room so that you could have a guest bedroom. For meals you could make it a priority to fix double the dinner once a week and bring that meal to a family staying at the hospital or to a new mom who doesn’t have the energy to cook for her family. Such tithes would really bring the comunity closer and teach us to be more generous.
Good for you! That’s thinking with the brain God gave you. Now if only more of us thought along those same lines.
Mr. Edelen, so much of this series (and your blog!) resonates with me. I was just reading and discussing with my boyfriend this weekend the importance of community and hospitality. One book on Gospel Virtues I read (by Jonathan R. Wilson) said that the church and our society have made hospitality trivial because so much of it we can get on the marketplace (i.e. restaurants and hotels). But it is central to the Church. Why aren’t we having more shared meals with our Brothers and Sisters in Christ instead of treating them to Golden Gorral or Dennys? Why aren’t we using our decorated guest rooms for real guests? And why don’t we extend hospitality to strangers instead of just our kinfolk and friends? We don’t teach it in our homes and churches or value it the way we should.
This morning I was reflecting on a devotion where a minister said that God’s purpose is for all of us to be winners and successes. I thought, what about the handicapped, mentally ill and deformed? How will God make them winners and successes? Then I started thinking back on a conversation I had with my boyfriend about being a success vs. being significant. I think our society puts too much emphasis on success, even the Church, and when we do we don’t define it. But everyone can have significance, even the person who was born with a debilitating disease and only has a few years to live. We need as a body to be more inclusive and the way to do that is not by pitying the helpless but by making them significant.
As a young female journalist, I wonder how I can help the church take its true place. I’m concerned about the work issues as well as how I and others overcome the lack of training and attentiveness we needed in all these matters. It’s nice to see all these blogs but what about a group that educates and petitions the Church for these things?
Great series, and what you have written really strikes a chord with me. I believe, though, that we must also know HOW to do the work of hospitality in a way that is truly edifying to all involved, and not merely enabling to the recipient. I think I mentioned before that we opened our home last December to a young man going through a difficult time. We had hoped to have a positive effect on him (he is unsaved). He had been through a rough time (his father’s suicide, family problems) and we (foolishly) did not lay out any boundaries, or really require much of him initially, believeing instead that he needed a quiet place and time to just settle in, and become a part of our family.
Almost a year later he is still here – he has been through unemployment and is now working, making a decent living, but he does little here and contributes almost nothing. We finally instituted a minimal rent ($100/month) to at least offset the additional expenses we have incurred by having him here, and although he did pay in September for 2 months, he hasn’t offered anything for November so I guess we’ll be forced to ask, and he still does not pitch in (takes the garbage out once in awhile). He seemingly has no plans to leave, AND he often stays out all night, and returns home drunk (he has a DUI and isn’t even supposed to be in a BAR). He drives on a suspended license. Last night he was very drunk again and talking nonsense while my husband and I tried to talk sense to him; finally I suggested that he just go to bed. At one in the morning his girlfriend showed up and I don’t know when she left.
Now, we have two other sons (23 and 20) who are allowed to do NONE of the above, AND they have to work around the house (one is in university and the other is taking a year off). Both hold down jobs. You may well imagine the resentment they feel! They just want this person to leave.
After last night, I believe we have to talk to our former pastor who is also a very able counselor to find out what the next step should be. Our household is being disrupted and we do not want to enable this person’s bad behavior. We do want to help him if we can, but this cannot go on.
(We were part of a church plant in this area that ended, so we are currently between churches…hence my comment about our former pastor).
So – how does one know when to “pull the plug” on an act of hospitality? What would Jesus do in this situation? Should we hang in there with this person and start to require some real accountability from him, and if he doesn’t want to respect our way of life, then ask him to leave? Or can we surmise that if he hasn’t shown any inclination to change during the year he has lived with us that he probably isn’t interested?
We will think carefully about doing this again in the future. We want to be generous and bless others, giving as freely as we have received, but there has to be a WAY to do it intelligently. Unfortunately, we have learned the hard way.
It’s nice to see all these blogs but what about a group that educates and petitions the Church for these things?
Perhaps the blogs function as a whole to be a correcting force. I’m not positive that institutions will teach any of this unless there’s some clamoring for it from the little people. That’s how life works, it seems.
So if enough of us little people start changing our own lives to reflect these correcting truths, it will filter up. I know that I’ve tried from the top down and that simply doesn’t work.
The problem is that the “visionaries” we have at the top are either not very visionary or they’ve petrified over the years through constantly fighting against the system (so that in the end they become the system they once fought). I find most Christian leaders today are products of the system, so changing the system only hurts them in the long run. Call it “biting the hand that feeds.” They don’t want to bite that hand.
Again, that’s why change has to come from the bottom up. Once the leaders at the top notice the sea change coming, they either have to go with the flow or be swept away. Most will go with the flow.
Obviously, that can work either positively or negatively. Just witness all the bad changes that have come in the Church in the last century. We just have to be sure that as a grassroots movement we stay true to the Lord and not to liberal (or even conservative) ideas that have no root in Him.
I like your comment #10. While I am not currently unemployed, I have been, at least twice. My experience with those periods of unemployment was nothing as you describe. I did receive some help from those who knew my plight but never once did a church band together and help me find employment.
We pride ourselves on our individualism and free market society and those have a tendency to replace compassion in the economy of the American church. Don’t get me wrong, I like free markets economically speaking. But unemployment brings suffering and we seem to collectively have an aversion to pain or suffering of any kind and we tend to throw the unemployed under the bus or keep them at arms length or push them on the mercy of the free market. These things are a far cry from the compassion and hospitality Jesus models and COMMANDS us to exercise.
The church that is properly influenced and appropriately responsive to the needs of the unemployed and the compassion of Christ will band together and help and obey the command to love one another as Jesus has loved us.
If you hang here long enough, you’ll see that this is one of my pet issues. In my line of work as a freelance writer, I’m technically unemployed if I don’t have a solid set of clients and jobs always in the queue. So I depend very much on the network of people I know and their networks. So yes, this issue means a great deal to me.
As to “throwing the unemployed under the bus,” it’s bad enough to be treated like cattle by modern business when trying to secure a job, but it’s even worse when your supposed safety net of people looks the other way and whistles idly. Been through that too many times, too.
It’s one of my pet issues also. We are in agreement and I also have been down the self-employed road.
But the all-encompassing item for me is loving one another as Jesus has loved us. It is my opinion of all the commandments Jesus and the apostles gave us the commandment to love one another is the one the church has great difficulty keeping or a great unwillingness to keep. I am beginning to think we are more unwilling than unable.
It may be unfashionable (and to some anathema) to talk about keeping commandments because we think Jesus didn’t give commandments. Too bad, He did. Somehow I can’t seem to find a healthy, redemptive, restorative alternative to loving God and loving others.
Thanks Dan. Blessings.