We decided last week that we would switch gears from faith to issue of community. What exactly does community look like?
As I sit back and reflect on the issue of community, I have to ask some tough questions: Are we really being the Church? Do we care enough for others – fellow brothers and sisters as well as our neighbors and the stranger – as we should? We are called to live and act as the body of Christ and yet, so often, there is a different picture that emerges from the Church. There is hate when there should be love, there is abandonment when there should be acceptance, and there is hurt when there should be healing.
Galatians 6:2 Paul says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Paul commanded the body of Christ to do so. It is our responsibility. As I consider the community – the body of Christ – I wonder if we were graded in ‘Bearing one another’s burdens 101,’ how we would measure up. It seems as though we are more concerned with our own agendas rather than listening to the body of Christ and those we live in community. There are times it seems we are more concerned with throwing the Bible at someone rather than being an ear, a friend, or the body. We throw ‘shotgun salvation messages’ at them without even being concerned with their needs or situations. And we wonder why people are disillusioned. Before we beat ourselves up about it, we need to remember that God has given us grace. He is always willing to give us another chance to get it right or to make things better. We need to learn to love the grace of God without taking it for granted.
The question then remains: How do we change our current situation? How do we ‘being the church’ when we are not surrounded by four walls and a big cross? Can we, as the body of Christ, be the church when we are not in the local community of believers wherever we are? I truly believe that we can, and it is our responsibility to be so. The unfortunate aspect of it all is, that it will look different in different contexts, which ultimately will come from exegetical analysis of one’s community. There are some things though that we can all do no matter what community of both believers and non-believers we exist in that we can start doing right away.
The first would be to listen. That is hard for us to do because we are so used to having a quick answer for anything and everything that comes up in our small circles of influence. To actually stop and listen to others – allowing them to vent their hurts and pain – is something the church in general does not do enough. Sometimes the best thing we can do is to say nothing at all. In my personal circles, I have seen this need more often than I would care to admit. So often, we act like a plumber who is there to ‘fix the leak’ when all someone really needs is someone to help clean up the damage the water has left behind. In other words, we simply feel that if we have the right answer, that we are doing someone a ‘favor’ when sometimes someone is just looking for us to be a ‘body’ to lean on, support, encourage, and ultimately love. I believe we can do so much more ‘ministry’ by listening than speaking.
Another aspect outside of listening we can do as the church is not only support someone emotionally but also financially if need be. If it is within the means and abilities of the body of Christ to do so, we should always be willing to provide for others in their times of need without expecting anything in return. I heard from a friend of mine an event that happened in their church not long ago. There was a person in need of some extra monies because of a hard time this individual had. The church got together and was able to meet the needs of this individual who had never even stepped in the doors of this church. I brought this individual such joy that she did enter the doors of this church and through the love and support of the body of Christ, came to know the Lord and is looking forward to starting a new journey with the Lord in this faith community. With this, I praise God to hear about such acts. There was also a family that had a need of some new clothes for their children. This same church got wind of this need and went out and bought several new (not thrift store) clothes for a family. The family was so grateful for their willingness to support them in this need even though they were not members or current visitors to this faith community.
As I sit back and reflect on these stories (there are so many more I could offer), I wonder what the church would be like if we were to always live in this manner. It seems the first century church found joy in doing it; I wonder if we would come to the same conclusion if we tried it. When we show we truly care about the individual rather than asking someone to a ‘shot-gun salvation prayer,’ I believe people would be more willing to hear what the church has to offer. It is something that is desperately needed and I do not think it is that impossible to accomplish. It only takes a willingness of others to be the church to those who hold different views of faith or lifestyles than ours.
My third and final thought as to how we can be the church no matter what community we are apart of stems from both of these points: Be real. I do not think that this is stressed enough in faith communities. We should not and cannot make hypothetical or ambiguous promises to others if we are not able to come through on these promises. Why is it so hard to keep the promises we promise others? Why is it so hard to have integrity with others? Is it so hard to ‘practice what we preach?’ Unfortunately in some communities, it is. I do not want to get into the stories I have heard about congregations or individuals within that congregation that had promised to do one thing or another who had let them down but it happens a lot more often than it should. If we say we are going to meet someone somewhere or that we are going to help someone out, we need to keep that ‘appointment’ as a priority. We also need to maintain a punctual attitude and do our best not to be late. In doing these things, we will show others, both believers and those who are not, that we truly do care about their needs and their concerns.
There are not the only areas in which we can be more of the church to both our own community and those outside of our faith community. Reaching out to those who are not apart of our faith community is just as important (if not more important) than reaching out to those within our communities of faith. For those who have lived with hurts and other issues, the church has the ability to create grace-creating freedom for those who have been held in their own bondage. Like a building that has a foundation that is strong – baring an equal amount of weight – so too the body of Christ can and should be able to do likewise. The freedom exists when the weight on someone’s shoulders can be distributed among others in the body. The one in need then can raise their head and continue to move forward in life without the constant strain from the trails and tribulations they face. No longer would people need to run and get a tattoo or look for other ways to deal with the hurt they experience. The church would be their support in times of need. Perhaps then we can be seen in the light we are meant to be. Perhaps then we can be the church God created. Perhaps.
My challenge is very simple. Work out a solid definition of what a community is and how it functions. Be willing to listen, assist those who need it, and be real with others. In all of this, we can be the churh God has called us to be. That is what God has called us to. We are the church.