In the first entry in this series, we looked at the Biblical foundation for asserting that the Lord is powerfully for community. His model for how we’re supposed to live and minister are based in community, not the rugged individualism we find so prevalent in the American mindset.
Regular readers will know that posts on community turn up frequently at Cerulean Sanctum. (Search on the Community category in the sidebar.) As I mentioned yesterday, I believe that many of the problems facing the American Church today are based in flawed or non-existent community. Clean up how we do community, and many of these problems will fade away, leaving us to better serve the Lord and each other.
Many people talk about community, but achieving vital community within our churches is another issue altogether. I think the Lord is sick of talk; He wants to see us start living what we’re talking about.
So how do we start developing community?
Today, we’ll look at basic ways to turn talk about community into the kind of fellowship that dwells in one accord.
#1 – Every hour of every day, say, “It’s not about me.”
Christianity, at its core, is others-centered. Love the Lord. Lord your neighbor. The heart of the Christian is inclined to Christ, and as Christ gave Himself away, we should give ourselves away. Freely we have received, freely we give.
Aren’t we always quickened by missionary stories that tell of extraordinary sacrifice? David Brainerd gave to the lost Indians he encountered till his tuberculosis-racked body gave out. Jim Elliot took a spear to the back so a primitive tribe others forgot might escape eternal torment. Hudson Taylor buried most of his family in China, yet because of his selflessness, the Chinese Church not only thrives today, but shames us with their faithfulness amid persecution.
The great Christians are so because they gave themselves away, sometimes even to martyrdom.
It’s about Christ. It’s about others. However unpopular that may be with us “King of the Hill” Christians in America, the truth remains. Community starts with understanding that you and I are tiny (albeit essential) bits of the Body of Christ. If we’ve truly died to the world, then being a tiny bit consecrated to a greater purpose is pure joy.
If we’re still holding onto our selves, then “it’s not about me” will grate on us. We’ll find any avenue we can to pave over that truth. And when it’s finally buried, we’ll paint a happy face over the top and go on serving ourselves.
But don’t call that Christian discipleship.
#2 – When a person shares a need with us, we should instinctively ask, “How can I help meet your need?”
Nothing angers me more than the hands-off approach some Christians take with the needy. Those quasi-disciples have this bizarre notion that aiding the hurting, shattered, and destitute will somehow stymie whatever God is trying to do in that person’s life. It’s as if we believe that God is going out of His way to punish the hurting, shattered, and destitute, and any comfort or assistance we give that poor person will throw a monkey wrench into God’s rack of discipline.
Nonsense. I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover enough times to know that such thinking is nothing more than an excuse to do nothing.
On the other hand, the Bible is loaded with hundreds of verses commanding us to look after the less fortunate. For those who hold to the less is more concept of helping others, here’s a favorite of mine:
Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.
—Proverbs 21:13 ESV
No, as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are to imitate our Master. He did not rebuke the needy, but met their need. Notice His response in this passage:
As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.
—Luke 18:35-43 ESV
Jesus did not attempt to blame the man for anything. He did not try to explain to the man that God was disciplining him through his blindness. No, Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”
A servant asks that question. Because our Lord came as a servant, we are to ask the same question if we are to be like Him.
Don’t unload a needy person’s request on someone else, even if that someone else is God. If you wish to bring others into the situation to help, by all means do so, especially God. But take responsibility by asking, “How can I help meet your need?” Then meet the need with every resource God has given you.
Some of you may wonder how this makes for vital community. The answer is simple: If we’re collectively meeting the needs of others, when it comes our time to be needy (and our time WILL come), our needs will be met. I don’t have to spend all my time watching my own back because the brethren are doing it for me, just as I am for them.
But it has to start with us. We may even run a deficit on returns, yet we do it nonetheless. Maybe if enough of us do it within our churches, being true servants will catch on. And so will true community.
#3 – The Holy Spirit created Christian community ex-nihilo, so we better be Spirit-filled.
No sooner had the Holy Spirit fallen at Pentecost than we see this at the close of Acts 2:
And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
—Acts 2:44-47 ESV
The echoes of Peter’s Pentecost sermon still reverberated among the palisades of Jerusalem, yet already the Lord was forging a vital community. A Spirit-filled church will naturally pursue community. One of the hallmarks of being filled with the Lord is a godly inclination toward others. It’s inescapable.
If there’s no real community at your church, then the Holy Spirit’s not there. Pure and simple. If your church is a tenuous affiliation of individuals, then I don’t care how powerful you may think the preaching, teaching, and worship are, your church is stone cold dead. We’ve got to stop lying to ourselves. The proof of the Holy Spirit’s absence is right there in the lack of community within our churches.
If that’s your church, you don’t have to go down without a fight. Greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world.
Find at least a couple other people dying for community, then pick a night when you can go to your church and throw yourselves face down before God, praying until the Spirit shows up. Fast and pray till heaven opens. Do it long enough and others might notice. Maybe they’ll join, too.
Are we serious enough about community to take whatever steps we must to have the kind of community we prattle on about? I know I’m deadly serious about this issue because I think it means life or death for the American Church. Yes, the devil can no sooner wipe out the worldwide church than you or I can blow out the sun, but that doesn’t guarantee the American Church won’t be reduced to a handful of embers. God’s going to send His Spirit where people are serious about the cost of discipleship. And part of that cost is putting down our self-centered lives to pursue a life of real community.
#4 – Judgment may begin with the house of God, but so does charity.
Take another look at the Acts 2 passage above. What needy people were the first recipients of the Church’s charity? People in the Church!
We can’t serve people outside our churches if we can’t serve people inside them. And too often, that’s exactly the case. We think that once a person becomes a Christian, they don’t need help from the brethren. We wrongly toss needy fellow believers back into God’s hands and go out to help those outside.
What witness to the world is that, though? Why would anyone want to be a part of a community that’s willing to help people UNTIL they become part of the community? Look at enough cults and you’ll be surprised how many act just that way.
Sadly, I’ve known Christian churches that do that. Time and again they fail because they forgot that charity begins at home. We minister to the believers first, then to those outside the community.
Does this run the risk of being too inwardly focused? Sure. But if a community of folks dead to the world makes up your church, they’ll need less and less inner support as time goes on. Soon, most of the community will require only a minimum of support at the most critical times, and more time can be spent ministering to the needs of those outside the community of faith.
Some would go so far as to say that there is no distinction between inside and outside. David Fitch’s The Great Giveaway cranks the amp to eleven by stating that all charity should be within the church community: Definitely offer help to the needy outside our churches, but with the stipulation that they become part of the church first. That’s some serious tough love, but I can see the wisdom in it. Think of the wide-eyes among nonbelievers when encountering the early Christians looking after each other the way they did. I’m sure many of those pagans were dying to have some of what the Christians had.
How many lost people today are dying to have what we have? Are they beating down the doors of our churches to get in?
If we start thinking along the lines of the four points raised in this post, we’ll make progress toward true community in our churches. In the days ahead, we’ll discuss other ways that we can work toward the kind of Christian community that will change the world for Christ.
Posts in this series: