Community – a church priority

The idea and mention of a church community is common and, too often, presumed. Below are some selected thoughts collected and gleaned from a number of sources and studies. Most of the quotes and ideas have been noted in earlier blog articles. Click on “Community” in the tags and you will get nearly 290 earlier items.

Definition and role

The community of God is the highest expression of the will of God in this age, according to A.W. Tozer. John Stott reminds us that the church community is not something the apostles or God thought up after Pentecost. It was his eternal plan.

In one sense every church has a “community” but too often it is often not a “spiritual community” to use Larry Crabb’s words. In fact, he wrote true spiritual community is very rarely found in churches. Having a steeple, Bible classes, children ministries, and lots of programs does not make a group a spiritual community. One cannot have a spiritual community that does not interact, talk with each other and share the “one anothers” that are so often spoken about in the New Testament. A spiritual community doesn’t happen if people only see each other on Sunday.

A church may be  congenial and cooperative community, but that does not make it a “spiritual community”. The local clubs and service organizations can easily fill that niche. The church has a role and purpose that far exceeds anything those public organizations can fill. John Piper warns us that too many feel that “church” and its “community” is just the Sunday church corporate life.

When a church community (hereafter meant whenever “community” is used) is effective and functioning as God intended it to, the result is spontaneous evangelism (Richard Halverson), discipleship, worship, and the face and love being displayed to the world. Without such a functioning spiritual community, leaders have to develop programs, hold evangelism seminars and revival meetings, hold discipleship training, and encourage (“browbeat”) parishioners to do their “duty”.

Bubna and Henry Nouwen reminds us that community is not easy. Nouwen stated: “Nothing is sweet or easy about community. Community is a fellowship of people who do not hide their joys and sorrows but make them visible to each other in a gesture of hope.”

The community is to be the display of God and his kingdom. It is the earthly, tangible display of Jesus. Joseph Hellerman: “Paul’s overarching concern in his ministry went far beyond the personal spiritual pilgrimages of his individual converts. Paul’s driving passion was to establish spiritually vibrant, relationally healthy communities of believers in strategic urban settings throughout the Roman Empire.” It is so important that it should be the goal of every Christian and every leader to help make it function as God intended — that means availability of individuals and focus of leaders.

How does community relate to outsiders and visitors?

Tim Chester said this “cross-love” is what happens when we truly have understood the gospel and experienced its power. It is this type or relationship that is truly evangelistic in its impact. Glenn Wagner states it this way: “As we love one another through the power of the Spirit and display the work of God in our lives, outsiders will feel attracted and want to join the party.” In another place he wrote, “God created the church to reflect his image, to be a community that both invites and embraces everyone near it. Authentic community, real family, is enormously attractive, even contagious. there’s just something about it that people can’t resist!” Larry Crabb wrote: “When members of a spiritual community reach a sacred place of vulnerability and authenticity, something is released. Something good begins to happen. An appetite for holy things is stirred.” Spiritual community is a miracle of God’s Spirit. We can facilitate it, but only he creates it.

If we are to keep people who come to visit our community, we must bring them into our community; welcoming them, caring for them, making them feel loved, and helping them become a vital part of the family. Most will only be interested in our community if they see reality, love expressed, and a God who is active among us. The cause for people slipping so easily and unnoticed out “the back door” seems to be a failur

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