I have been writing about Christian community for the last few posts. This is an important topic for me because I believe that re-discovering authentic Christian community is one of the foundations for reviving the church in North America. As we begin to develop the kind of community that God had in mind for the church, we strengthen the church internally and make our witness to the world what it should be.
But as much as I believe in the importance of Christian community, I am not some naive first year theology student who thinks that proper community should just pop into existence just because it is supposed to be. I know from my own experience and the experience of others that Christian community isn’t always what it is meant to be–and at times, it become a dangerous and damaging witness to the power of human sin.
But I have also learned that for the community to develop in the right direction, it requires risk–someone has to be willing to start the process. The difficulty with that is deciding who takes the first risk. When we need someone to do something, it often means that everyone waits for someone else to be the first someone.
Since I am the one who studies and researches and digs out these things, my part in the process is obvious. I need to explain to people how Jesus envisioned community. I need to define and describe and explain and teach and preach the concepts. I need to help people see the benefits and blessings of Christian community. I need to show them the negative consequences of a lack of community. I need to carefully show how God through the Holy Spirit provides the courage and wisdom to build community. All that is my job–after all, I am the pastor, the person called by God to shepherd and care for the community
I teach and preach and because of my brilliant teaching and preaching, people are inspired to develop powerful and breath-taking Christian communities. And at this point, we end the fairy tale with “They all lived happily ever after.” If preaching and teaching were enough to make the church and people what God wants us to be, we probably wouldn’t need churches because everything would have been fixed a long time ago.
I realized that if community is important, I need to be willing to be one of the someones who takes a risk. It is not enough to preach and teach about community–I need to practise community. I need to offer my gifts and my weaknesses and treat the gathering of believers as the community they are called to be. I need to follow the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 7.12, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (NIV)
I am not necessarily saying that I need to do this because I am the pastor, although that is a factor. Mostly, I become responsible for doing it because I have done the research and know the importance of community and therefore become responsibly before God who has led me to these insights. I need to take the risk because I see the need.
I would like to say that this has always worked out perfectly and I have always been able to develop powerful and exciting Christian communities–but I believe in honesty. While acting as if the community existed as it is called to be does help develop community, it has not been an always positive thing for me. I haven’t always been willing to do what I know I should and sometimes when I have done what I consider to be right, it has been wrong and occasionally my attempts to treat the community of believers as believers has been used against me by parts of the community.
But someone has to start–and since I am often the one who has the insight and does the study, I have a responsibility. We build community by being in community and living community. It can be painful and frustrating and slow and disappointing–but if we really believe in the idea of community, we need to work at it. Someone has to start the process–why not me (or you)?
May the peace of God be with you.