Connect, Lead, Equip: Church Resources for Community & the Purpose of Community
For centuries, the Church was the hub of spiritual life. It was hard to conceive of being a committed Christ-follower without also being committed to and attached to a local community of faith. But that has drastically changed. Some may see it as progress. Our casual attitude toward the church is more a product of our culture and our times than it is of growth in our understanding of Scripture and desire to be radically conformed to Christ.
Living as devoted Christ-followers calls for a whole different orientation to life than is promoted and practiced by the culture in which we live. We live in the day of the individual. The autonomous self who likes and longs for relationship but not at the price of deep commitment and accountability. We want happy, fun-filled, make-me-feel-good relationships, not the bothersome kind that involves disagreement, adjustments, change, and accountability. As individuals, we claim an enormous zone of personal privacy and moral autonomy. We think, “What I do is my business, not yours and you have no right to tell me how to live or to hold me to some standard you think is right.” We simply need to accept everybody’s view of how to live life unless of course that view says there really is a morally right and wrong way to live life.
So, in today’s church, buying into this personal zone of moral autonomy means that the church is more of a voluntary club which has no right to intrude into people’s “personal” space and it is best to try not to offend people’s sensibilities. Even if we see them heading off the moral or ethical cliff, we keep our distance because in that way we respect their autonomy, their individual life, their personal space, and are showing them love by letting them find their own route to happiness.
Now, what’s so different about the New Testament church, the church God has designed and Christ is building, is that it is very much the mutual commitment of gathered Christ-followers to worship the Lord, build each other up in the faith, exhort one another to serve the Lord, and hold each other accountable to live life in a manner worthy of Christ that is pleasing to our Lord as a witness to the truth of Christ in the world. It is not an “individualized” life. It is a community – an interrelated, interdependent, and mutually accountable body of whole-hearted, fully-devoted, all-in followers of Jesus Christ. As such we have great reverence for God and great respect for each other. We don’t live solo lives. We see ourselves as part of the local body with our lives affecting the health, the vitality, and the impact of the body. In a very real sense, we are our brother’s/sister’s spiritual keepers, just as they are ours. We are responsible to one another for our spiritual well being and the overall spiritual health of the Church. This means we have mutual responsibility to fulfill the New Testament imperatives of loving, encouraging, admonishing, praying for, edifying, rebuking, confessing to, bearing the burdens of, teaching, confronting, forgiving, and bearing with one another. When we belong to the church, we become much less of the private people we would be otherwise. And that’s good. Understanding and valuing church community is extremely important because it also sets a model for how to do community in other parts of our lives, such as with family and in work settings.
So, what do we do with the discrepancy between what God intends for the church to be and the cultural intrusion that contradicts it? How can pastors and leaders in the church reconcile this? What are we doing (whether we’re pastors, ministry leaders, or church members) to encourage people to engage in community, accountability, and be committed to the body of believers?