(Sometimes you look back on what you wrote and say, "Man, that right there...really dates what I was trying to say." I allude to the Rob Bell and John Piper references in a tongue and cheek manner, not so much as to the concept of physical "time" being dated, but to where I was at theologically. What books was I reading in January 2015? Why did I use these individuals as examples? I'll leave it to the mystery of faith and move on. My push back of what I was seeing at the time was in response to shirts I had seen declaring one's love for their particular church and city. As my blog will elaborate on, this is not entirely a bad thing. The purpose was to move toward a bigger picture.)
Let me first say, that before you disagree with me, try and see the bigger picture I’m trying to paint here. We live in a world now filled with sound bites and hash tags and sometimes what we need to convey needs better unpacking than 6 second Vines allow.
This week marks my second year being a student pastor, but my journey in faith started to really take shape back in 2009. Since that time I’ve become saturated with what many now would consider the emerging church.
All that really means is that I’m part of a Christian “bubble” so to speak.
You say the name John Piper, I think Passion.
You say Rob Bell, and I think Love Wins.
You say relevant, and I think RELEVANT (emphasis on the capitalization) Magazine.
The last several years I’ve been indoctrinated into a world that I knew little about before. Whereas I used to look forward to musical concerts, I find myself now looking up Christian Conferences with keynote speakers. I’m now driving hours away to visit other churches to see how they do Sunday morning worship, or what some even call, Sunday morning Experiences.
I can now speak fluent “christianese”, a language that uses terms like “season” and “frozen chosen”.
Where am I going with this…?
I’m just trying to get across the point that I’m part of this thing. I’m part of this Christian culture.
Being part of it allows me to see certain things…trends if you will. And like all trends, some are awesome and some are…well think 90’s pop music.
Lately I’ve been noticing a certain trend that’s been gaining momentum for the last few years. It’s always been important and acknowledged, but the intensity as of late has definitely went up a few notches.
Now I know what you’re thinking, what could I possibly have against community? At first glance; nothing. We see community in the early church in the book of Acts where new believers are meeting and sharing their goods amongst one another. They meet within each other’s homes and break bread daily. They simply do life together. They know what is happening with those around them and not in some snoopy neighbor type way. They are in touch with the general needs and struggles of the people living around them.
We Christians have been trying to emulate this lifestyle for the better part of 2000 years.
And as of late, we have made a point to let others know this is our goal. Church ministries have been setup to engage their local communities. Terms like “plugged in”, “community groups”, and “heart for the city” have entered into church vocabulary.
And let me be quite clear; this is a good thing. I for one am the product of how valuable a good community small group is to an individual (for those that don’t know what a small group is, this might be helpful) and why they are so important to new believers. Or for any believer for that matter.
I’m not going to say books like For the City and Center Church have the wrong idea. Being intentional about the people and area you are part of and care for is desirable.
What I worry about is polarization.
We as humans, at least the western culture, tend to work on scales or see-saws. We take a topic and most commonly fall on one side of the discussion. Rarely do we play the role of the fulcrum, being an instrument of balance. Pro-Life or Pro-Choice? Republican or Democrat? All or Nothing.
And this is what frightens me about what the modern church is doing with community…as unintentional as it might be.
Love YOUR church. Love YOUR city.
Is it impossible to imagine that focusing so much on what is right in front of us is not always the best thing?
Let me help with this idea. My wife and I live in what many feel is the middle of nowhere, a few of our friends have referred to it this way or more than one occasion. We live in a small suburb city just south of Raleigh NC. The location works well because we are roughly 25 minutes away from Raleigh, while at the same time being 25 minutes away from the rural church God has placed me at. I find my time split on how often I travel to both locations during the week.
Now some would argue that I need to pack my bags and move to the city where my church is located. That I need to put down roots and invest my time around the people of my congregation. And they’re not entirely wrong for thinking this. I am sure that much good would come of it.
However I am prone to wonder if this would hinder my relations with those that do not live within that community? Case in point, we have acquaintances and some other close friends who live in towns and cities that are outside of the community where our church is located. Should we need to sacrifice those friendships based on the simple reasoning of proximity? Does the body of Christ stop at the city border?
Not only that, but should we limit our relationships to just those individuals or couples within the church? Praise God I have close relationships with those in my congregation, but I am just as thankful for those friends that are not part of my Christian culture. Having people in my life from different backgrounds has not only made me a better person, but most certainly a better Christian.
This brings up the point of intentionality. To maintain any sort of relationship with others we have to be intentional with our time and dare I say commitment. Being community driven is seen as a positive sacrifice. I am simply saying that focusing on relationships outside our communities is just as important and desperately needed. Looking from the outside in, one of the largest issues people have with the church is that while we preach a Gospel where all are welcome, what most often is seen is an environment of exclusiveness. Ask yourself this question; who are the people you invited over to your home this past month? If the answer is just the friends from your church, I strongly suggest you look to change that next month.
This makes me reflect on why once a week I find myself driving early in the morning to meet with an older gentleman that I do discipleship with. We get together to read over scripture and talk about what is going on in each other’s lives.
From a practical standpoint, I have no business doing this.
It’s a 30 minute drive, to and from my home on a day where I do not particularly have to be in the area where we meet. We hang out in a local coffee shop which causes me to spend a couple of bucks on a cup of coffee. It is safe to say that this meeting cost me money weekly.
And it’s totally worth it.
What great moments that have come out of our conversations! It’s worth that small amount of time and money I have to invest. He’s not part of my community, but who cares! Our friendship is worth the sacrifice…to the point where it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. It feels like a privilege. A privilege that is balanced with spending time with those in our local community.
I shouldn’t have to choose to limit my relationships. If the relationship is important enough, I find the time to make it work.