Something a little unusual (for me) happened this week. I hadn’t planned on reading or writing anything about Christian community, but several posts on the subject popped up in my feed reader in the last couple days. Each one of them got me thinking about the subject from a slightly different angle.
The first post made me think about how easy (and how disastrously wrong) it is to make Christian community community-centered. True Christian community is always and only gospel-centered.
There have been a lot of attempts to cultivate community in the local church–small groups, accountability groups, cell groups, missional communities, gospel communities. The problem with a lot of these structures is that they make the wrong thing central. The glue is all wrong. Small groups make community the glue. Accountability groups make holiness the glue. Cell groups make evangelism the glue. Missional communities make mission the glue. All of these get stuck on the wrong things. Gospel communities, however, gather around the gospel not community or mission. (Read the rest.)
However, if community isn’t central, it is nonetheless a vital ingredient in making the kingdom of God tangible on earth. Brent Thomas describes how the church he pastors aims at doing just that in his post, Sweet Spot (AKA Tangible Kingdom). He also makes it clear that although the church aims at making the kingdom of God tangible, it doesn’t always succeed, noting that “life together is often messy.” (That may be the biggest understatement in his article!)
Some of you may recognize the phrase “life together” as the title of a classic book by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Although Brent doesn’t refer to the book in his post, I wonder if he had it in mind. Whether he did or not, it reflects some of the ideas in Bonhoeffer’s book. Life together is messy. Bonhoeffer doesn’t shy away from the truth.
No sooner are people together than they begin to observe, judge, and classify each other. Thus, even as Christian community is in the process of being formed, an invisible, often unknown, yet terrible life-and-death struggle commences. (93)
For that and other Bonhoeffer quotes on conflict in community, see this post by Zach Nielsen.
Finally, Dan Edelen is struggling with some of the practical implications of Christian community. He takes the idea that life together is messy in a totally different direction. Here he describes an experience he had several years ago.
I was sitting in the seats of the huge, suburban church I used to attend. The man sitting to the left of me told me about the massive, multi-thousand-dollar plasma TV he’d just bought and how he was going to spend the whole weekend watching sports. On my right, a man who looked like he didn’t have a friend in the world sat dejectedly. When I asked him what was wrong, he said that he’d been out of work for more than a year and had just received his first foreclosure notice from his bank…
Two men. One church. Big disconnect.
That post is part one of a series entitled What Being a Church Family Means. I expect the whole series to be a challenging and humbling exhortation to sacrificially care for one another in the body of Christ, an exhortation we probably all need to hear.
Maybe those random and largely unrelated posts from my feed reader will help spark some discussion about Christian community either here on this blog, or even better, between you and the members of your own church. I pray that it will.
It seems appropriate to close with a prayer from Jesus’ final days on earth.
Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one… I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:11, 20-23 ESV)