It was about this time last year that I started talking to my leadership about embracing a model for church – a very biblical, practical, sustainable, and healthful model – as church as a faithful community. This concept stands in contrast with two other prevailing paradigms for the church in North America (other places too, I would suspect). The first is a religious institution driven by prescription and maintaining the comfort of members. The second is a vendor of religious goods and services obliging the desires of current and future customers. Good ministry can happen in both, but important, essential things get lost along the way.
In the faithful community, mature and maturing Christians see themselves as disciples, ministers, and missionaries, never members or customers. Learning, caring, and serving drive us. Preference and prescription never outweigh purpose. And our focus is on God and others ahead of ourselves. We really are third in that equation. Pastors operate as models, mentors, and messengers, not institutional servants or religious professionals. I know you find it hard to believe that churches everywhere struggle with things like that, but…they do. Funny thing with these designations. My experience is that folks in the first two often ask themselves “What do I want?” and can use varied degrees of insistence that it be provided. Oddly, those inclined to pursue true community rarely speak that language, but get more out of their church and faith experience than those who do. Oddly, the less we seek to be pleased, the more pleasing we find things.
So let’s get back to the idea of community as the overarching identity of a church. That happens when we are committed to, among other things, growing, serving, and belonging. And those things cannot happen in a vacuum. Nor can it really happen in a roughly one-hour time slot on Sunday morning. That’s why finding connecting points is essential. Bible study groups are connecting points. Community or “LIFE” groups that meet and do life together are another. And right now, we do not have enough of those to connect the folks who are here, let alone the many around us that God would have us reach, then grow, serve, and belong with. We can’t be a community without fostering community. So what does that call on us to do?
First, pray about it. Ask God to help us be that kind of community, and to help you and me and others to help that happen. Secondly, ask God to reveal how you might best be a part of that, even if – and it will – it calls you outside your current situation. Simply put, if our people only stay connected where they are connected, there will be no more connections. I know my good people who love the Lord, love this church, and love others would not want to see that happen. And I’m sure you want to share in the joy of being part of the spiritual resurgence that God is bringing about. Lastly, let’s draw closer to God, to each other, and to the mission ahead of us. Keep the call to community in front of us and moving toward it. It is a journey that I am thrilled to be taking with you. And with the many who have yet to come.