I have often heard people who are disappointed with the established church, say things like “why do I need to gather with other Christians when I can live my faith quite fine on my own”. My short answer to this includes things like:
- Being a Christ-follower in this world is hard work. The New Testament with all it’s “one another” phrases, is clearly God saying “it is good to do it together and help each other out, spur each other on and support each other.”
- For some reason, God has always used people to live His mission to restore the world. “The church is the hermeneutic of the gospel” as Leslie Newbigin puts it. In the life of the church, people see the Kingdom of God.
- As seen in other posts, mission and community development is more effective when we create networks and community and build capacity together. We can build individual relationships and individually get involved in community life, but as connections and webs are formed, transformation flourishes.
- God does a work in us when we hang out with people who are not like us. Many of the “one another passages” seem aimed at us learning and growing through interacting with people we wouldn’t necessarily choose to hang out with.
But there’s more to this too I think. Through Alan Hirsch, I became aware of the word “communitas”. I thought it was a word that he had made up! But it turns out to be a word coined by an anthropologist named Victor Turner in the 1960’s. It is about the bond that forms amongst people who are in a “liminal” place – a place of change, challenge and struggle and about the effect that this experience has on communities around the group. Sporting teams and the military are common places for communitas to form. There is a special bond formed when a group with a mission bigger than itself faces down the challenges together and strives to it’s ultimate goal.
So often, humans set out to create community and find that it becomes introspective and self-serving. I think that the church has done this at times too. I have been in many bible study groups that have been all about nurture and learning and when challenged to have new members says “but we enjoy our group too much as it is”. And many Christians have told me that the church needs to concentrate on the growth and nurture of the members before it can reach out in mission. Only this is never achieved to satisfaction.
True community(as) comes when we face a challenge, strive towards a greater goal or mission and find ourselves changing, growing, encountering God and deeply bonded together along the way. And what could be a better goal to strive towards than God’s mission to change lives and the world?
So Christ-following and mission is not a loner thing. We need to join with others in a quest to live God’s great mission to restore people and the world through Jesus. Along the way, we will be changed and will experience nurture and community.
What are you waiting for? Inspire your church to strive for the greater goal! Grab a group and start today! Talk to SUNO or someone else about helping you if you need. 2011 here you come!