This past weekend I had the privilege of speaking for our service. The following is the manuscript from my talk. Sorry it is quite long as it was a 20 - 25 minute talk. I think it is worth the read though. It went really well and I feel like God used me to talk to my community.
Welcome! I’m glad you could join us tonight as we continue our talk about our mission as a church. This is the 3rd in a 5 week series. We started on September 2nd with Troy giving us an overview of our mission, “We are a Christ-centered community that helps people follow Jesus.” Two weeks ago, Troy focused on the first part of that statement and what it means to be Christ-centered. Tonight I am going to touch on the second part of that, community and in two weeks Troy will be speaking on evangelism and discipleship, the helping people follow Jesus part of our mission. Another way that we can look at our mission of being a Christ-centered community that helps people follow Jesus, is to first say that we exist for God, second we exist for each other, and third we exist for others. There is also an essence of reaching up, reaching in, and reaching out. It has been really cool to be in on the process of coming up with this mission statement. We met all last semester talking about this and in the past few weeks, each time Troy has talked, God has taught me something new. I would highly recommend making it a priority to be here again in two weeks when Troy talks about evangelism and discipleship. I know it will be good.
Ok, enough review and preview: on to the topic at hand, community. When I prepare to talk to other people about something I often think, what do I really know about this topic? I would have to say that in life experience, I know a good bit about community, but I also want to share what I have learned in the process of preparing for this talk. Let’s start with the basics. What is community? Please jump in here. Well, I know you guys are smart and you have said some great stuff, but here’s what Mr. Webster had to say in his dictionary; community is a unified body of individuals. If you ask me, that definition sounds an awful lot like the church. Wikipedia says that community usually refers to a group of people who interact and share certain things as a group. Again, sounds a little like the church maybe. An even wiser man that I know personally, you can get autographs later, Reverend Troy Benton Cady has used the phrase that the church is the people of God, anywhere, gathered together to accomplish God’s purposes. Now this sounds a bit like community. Another way that you can look at community is to break up the word into two root words, common and unity. Common implies similar, shared, reoccurring… Can you think of any other descriptors? Unity implies together, harmony, whole… Can you think of any other descriptors for unity?
Now that we all really know what community is and are on the same page, lets explore why community is so important, especially within the church. I think the best place to start is to see what the Bible has to say about it. Lets look at Genesis 1:26 “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…’” What does this passage tell us about God? God is part of a community. He is part of the Holy community of the trinity, the father, son and Holy Spirit. This passage also points out that we, humans, are made in the image of God. I think it is safe to say then that if we are made in the image of God, we were made to be in communion with others. This is something that is embedded into our very nature. God has it in the trinity and we long for it. I don’t think you have to look much further than out the doors of this building to see evidence of this. This culture thrives on longing to be known and be with others. How often do you see people doing things alone? Look into any bar, people are sharing tapas, pass a botellon on the street, people aren’t alone. We are engrained with the desire for community.
Another example from scripture of why community is important is from John 17:20-23 (in this passage, Jesus is praying for all believers)
"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
Jesus wants us to achieve unity with fellow believers as well as with him as He and the Father are one. This is also so people will know who we follow. People need to see that we can love each other.
I want to share a few more Biblical examples that I believe also point to the fact that we are to be a part of community and the importance of that. For me, to know that something is important, I need it to be beaten into me so I don’t forget so, if this seems redundant, too bad, I’m just beating it into you so you don’t forget or question whether or not this is important. Ok, next example Genesis 2:18 “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’” That is pretty self-explanatory right. I Peter 3:8 says “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brother, be compassionate and humble.” This is coming from a man who spent a few years of his life in community with Jesus and his disciples. This also reflects Jesus’ statement that people will know that we are his followers by our love. How can that be possible if we aren’t loving each other. Finally Ephesians 4:13-16 says
“…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
This reference tells us of the importance of community for our maturity in the faith. I think these Biblical examples have made pretty clear to us why community is important. So, what does this mean for us? It means we need to be part of a community. It also means that each of us has a role to play in a community. This passage briefly mentions the idea that Christ is the head of the body, but let’s look at 1 Corinthians 12:12-20 to get a better idea of what it means to be a part of the body of Christ.
“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.”
We all play a different role, but we are all important. Because we play different roles, we are able to help each other in specific ways. We are in community with God and also with each other. We need each other. Remember, we are created in the image of a communal God.
Because of this though we have to be very intentional about being a part of this community. We earlier read the passage in Ephesians where Paul tells us we need others to help us grow. In order for us to grow we need to allow others to help us. We can easily be a part of a community and at the same time be hiding and not really be part of the community. I think this is often times quite easy to do in a “church” community, especially if we have the misconception that in order to belong to a church community we have to have all our ducks in a row we can easily just show up for services twice a moth and never give or do anything else. Relevant Magazine recently had an article titled “A Community of Undevout Sinners” by John Havens. In this article Havens said, “Why do we keep secrets? The truth is we’re lost, broken, and hurting people who need repair and God has chosen community to be the context of healing and growth.” I like this because I believe it to be quite true. None of us has it all together!!! NONE OF US!!!
If we want to grow, we have to be intentional and vulnerable. As Troy says, you can’t see your own butt! (Sorry about the hideous picture but I did actually use this picture during my talk with the caption, "Be honest, okay? Does this bikini make my butt look big?") The purpose of community and more specifically our community is to encourage one another and spur each other on. It is very easy to lie to ourselves, deceive ourselves, and ignore our issues so we need others who are on this journey with us to hold us accountable. This is something I sometimes struggle with so I want to start with me. I too often deceive myself into thinking that God’s opinion of me isn’t enough. I compare myself to others. I see that I am not as good as someone else and start to think that God made a mistake with me. I want to grow, but I need others to help me get out of my own way. Now, I’ve just allowed you to see my “butt” let’s be a community that is in the habit of spurring each other on. In context of the saying, “You can’t see your own butt,” let’s allow others to see our butts and encourage us in growth. Is this going to be easy, neat, and a rockin’ good time? Absolutely not. But, is it necessary and is it worth it? Absolutely.
Now, I was a little hesitant when Troy asked me if I’d be willing to speak on this topic. I thought what do I have to say about this? As I thought about it more though, I realized just how important community is to me and I’ll tell you why. I actually came up with this really difficult equation to show you why. Church=Community=Family. As a single person who has lived away from my immediate family for over 8 years, my community has become my family so, this is my family, this is my family, this is my family, and this is my family (Oasis Madrid). I think for us community is even more important than it is for some. Most of us are away from our home countries, away from our family, and experiencing struggles that most people won’t ever know in their lifetimes; learning and adapting to new languages, cultures, etc. We need each other! So, practically, how do we do this? Hebrews 10:25 “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the day approaching.”
We need to continue being intentional about getting together and being vulnerable with each other so we can grow in faith and love. I think there are times when we do this well, but there have also been times when we fail miserably. When we are in true community with each other, this is what it will look like according to Acts 2:44-45, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” So, let’s encourage each other, grow together and give to each other. I want to just close with my hope for our community.
Acts 4:32-37 “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.”