For some time now one of the buzzwords in our church planning meetings is the word, community. I think this is a good thing and much needed in American Christendom. Talking about it is one thing but putting it into practice is another. How do we get people together and build authentic relationships, meaningful relationships, a tight knit group called family?
First, we must define community and as with all things it is best to start with the Word of God. To be completely honest, what better way to understand and see community in the body of Christ than to consider how the early church practiced community. Before we read this let me warn you. It will jack you up and cause you great discomfort while your mind races with all kinds of excuses.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. ~ Acts 2:42-47
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. ~ Acts 4:32-37
Right now you are seriously thinking about backing out of this blog. You are probably thinking, “Are you kidding me? This can never or will never happen in my church!” If it makes you feel any better I actually agree with you. We in America will just have to settle for trick or treating together on Halloween, breakfasts, luncheons, Thanksgiving banquets and a good Christmas party to satisfy our community fix. Please hear me out, I read something the other day where one church in America actually did this and I want to share their story.
In his book, “Forgotten God,” Francis Chan writes this: “A while back a former gang member came to our church. He was a heavily tattooed and rough around the edges, but he was curious to see what church was like. He had a relationship with Jesus and seemed to get fairly involved with the church.
After a few months, I found out the guy was no longer coming to the church. When asked why he didn’t come anymore, he gave the following explanation: “I had the wrong idea of what church was going to be like. When I joined the church, I thought it was going to be like joining a gang. You see, in the gangs we weren’t just nice to each other once a week – we were family.”
Francis goes on to write: “A few months ago, the elders at Cornerstone Church, began to ask the question “Why don’t we live like the believers who made up the first church? What followed was a beautiful time of sharing as our elders laid “everything” at one another’s feet. We surrendered the keys to our cars, homes, and bank accounts. The elders looked me in the eyes and said, “What’s mine is yours. If anything every happens to you, I will support and care for your kids as much as I would care for my own. I will be your life insurance.” And because they had a history of genuine sacrifice for the sake of the gospel, I believed what they said. From there, we began going to some of our friends in the congregation and expressing our commitment to them. And now this mentality is spreading. New life is permeating the church as individuals back up their words with sacrifice. Cars and homes are being sold or given away. Expensive vacations are joyfully replaced with caring for others. People are being welcomed into others homes – not only for meals, but to live.”
This is a small example of what early church community looked like. It was Spirit empowered, and it affected every part of their lives. This is what laying down our soul life, picking up our cross and following Jesus looks like. Can you imagine the affect this would have on the world around us? Imagine the paradigm shift that would need to take place to create community of such magnitude in our churches. Imagine denominational leaders, pastors, professors, bankers, and all classes of Christians simply keeping enough salary and property to meet their daily needs and giving the rest away. There would truly be no needing person among the body of Christ. Oh well, dream on, right?
Still want community in your church? It is one thing to talk about it, it is another thing to live it.