Monday, November 02, 2009

Want to play?

One of the striking features of the persecuted church around the world is that people will do whatever it takes to be together. They will risk life and limb, suffer great inconvenience and adjustments of priority in order to sit in chairs in a quiet place together. To be with other believers. No matter what the cost.

One of the striking features of the western church is that even those who are deeply committed followers of Christ opt not to do ‘church’ all that often. If truth be known a good percentage of folks are part-timers. Maybe attending two out of every four weeks in every month. The church is not central to many lives, only the wallpaper that helps adorn it. If that. Many have told me that they live for Christ but the church just doesn't do it for them. Bottom line is that more and more we see people are unwilling to do whatever it takes to be together. Certainly, we're not risking life and limb (although the lack of charity in our church parking lot makes it a risky venture) or inconveniencing ourselves in order to be with other believers.

And yet when you ask the American church what it longs for – people say ‘community’. It's perpexing. It's as if we want community to happen for us but we don’t want to put effort into creating it.

It makes one wonder if the persecuted church with all its trials and travails is better for the soul than a church that enjoys the possibilities inherent in great freedom.

In the early days of the church we find one common theme …the people who knew Jesus needed each other. Jesus told them to go and wait until the Holy Spirit came. And so they waited …together. And then after the Holy Spirit came that desire intensified until the point where you get this captivating picture of the early church. It's found in Acts 2 and 4

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. ..

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God's grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

One in heart and mind. Shared everything. With great power. No needy among them. Testifying to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

From the very first day I read these versed I longed for what it described. I actually chose a college at a monastery because a friend told me ... "The monks will care about you." For a kid from a broken home I was looking for the church to provide me with the family, the sense of community I never really had. I had this inherent belief that church was more than a worship service, more than throwing my dollars into a bucket …there was something about the notion of faith based community that made and makes my heart beat hard.

Often when one goes on a retreat or a mission trip you grow close to others in a way that makes you want to never come off that mountain. The experience of community wrapped in service is a great combination.

I yearn for community. Yet, I lack the get up and go to create it. I like my space. My private time. Yet, every time I take the step to help create and be in community I'm only rarely disappointed. It's well worth the effort.

So, don't know where this is going except to say I'm being challenged to pray and think about this whole 'community' thing. No, that's not the truth. I've thought and prayed long and hard about this over the years. Ever notice that saying 'thinking and praying' is really pretentious. And it usually means 'I don't intend on doing anything'. So here's the truth. I have it hunch God might be looking a whole lot of us in the eyes and saying something like this ..."You know what to do. People are dying out there because they lack meaningful connection. You're a leader. Be in and create community. Be the church. It's part of your spiritual DNA. Have fun. Get back with me if you run into problems."

The ball is officially in my court. Yipes. Anybody else want to play?


Randy Siever said...

I wish I could swear on your blog. If I could, I think you know what I'd say.

Your last paragraph stung me, like the Holy Spirit or something. I just want to think and pray about it, ok? I don't want to lead anything. I don't want to LEAD anything...ok? Leave me alone!

I'm guessing you know what I'd like to say to you now...

But I won't. Because I'm just saying it to God. And I think I have been for some time.

I need to think and pray about THAT.

Julian said...

I'll be a bit provocative: I wonder if one can be a "deeply committed follower of Christ" and not have church as a central part of one's life (I suspect it is difficult if not impossible). We (my church) like to use the phrase "believe, behave, belong" to describe what we believe Christian discipleship to mean. American Christians tend to focus on ... Read Morethe first, occasionally the second, but are growing away from the third. But I don't think any of them are optional.
I think that few of us (unless one is a very charismatic extrovert) have the energy to regularly create community without re-orienting ourselves and designing our lives around Christian fellowship. Here are three things our Church has attempted to foster community:
1. Become a "parish church"- commit to a neighborhood. Bless and serve that neighborhood's people whether they make it through the doors or not. And strongly encourage the members of the church to live IN that neighborhood- close to one another.
2. Commit to table fellowship. Eat, drink and be merry together. But mix it up- in the church, in people's homes, with your friends and with people unlike you as well. Make sure the outsiders in the church are diligently and repeatedly invited in. Make it a program if necessary, but do it several times a week.
3. Question American tendencies toward extreme individualism- it's become an idol. I don't want to overstate this one, but it makes a host of Christian virtues and practices- especially community- far more difficult.