Many people venture into ministry work with the idea that they will spend hours reading the Bible, playing guitar, and counseling people in an office. But if you were to strip away the church buildings, the musical instruments, the subculture of spiritual talk and terminology, what would be left? What is the most basic meaning of ministering? If you were to start completely from scratch, where would you turn first? This, I believe is where we discover the importance of community.
This post will look at this often-used word “community”, suggest some reasons why it is essential to creating any kind of substantial Christian work, and offer some implications for gospel ministry, based on those suggestions.
Our problem: We are deceived about the un-importance of community.
Many have allowed the “secular” world to influence them on how Christianity is to be lived out. There are even bible verses that appear to support the thinking that one’s theology is primarily personal, private, individual.
It is important to interpret God’s words as he meant them to be interpreted.
When the Bible says, “For if we live, we live to the Lord,” (Romans 14:7) it’s easy to think that it means we are to consider our spiritual life to be between us and God — not as part of a community, necessarily. And while there is some truth to the notion that our existence must be based on a personal relationship with Jesus and not on what people around us say, to hold that our personal, private ideas of what God says are the only thing that truly matters would be to deny the role that God’s community played in bringing us to know Him in the first place. Most of us are brought to a saving knowledge of Jesus through countless interactions with his people, who are living out his truth in their lives. To believe that, after that initial conversion, he would somehow change and lead us primarily through personal, private rumination is not Biblical, or practical. If we are to have life-changing faith, we can’t deny the role of the communities into which God places us.
It takes a village.
There — I’ve got your attention. And while I acknowledge the cultural baggage associated with that statement, I also refuse to reject it fully, because of the peculiar resemblance it does bear to scriptural truth. When one looks at it in the light of scripture, I believe the inescapable conclusion is that there is a very real way in which our lives — if lived out in the way that God implies in his word — surely do require that we see ourselves as part of a sort of village, whether we like it or not.
- “You are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:38)
- “You are … a chosen people …” (1 Peter 2:9)
- “…confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16)
- “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Cor 12:13)
- “…that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me…” (John 17:23)
I could go on and on. But the implication is clear: in the Christian’s world, the community is inextricable. Remove community from the life of the Christian and you remove his life’s blood. According to Jesus himself, the very identifying mark of the Christian — love for each other — is something that can only be lived out in the presence of others.
Implications for gospel ministry
The great story told in scripture is one of God drawing out from among the various peoples of the world a people set apart for his purposes, and giving his life for that people. He is the hero, the great protagonist, who stoops down into humanity and changes human history for all time. And he charges each of his people individually to live with the same mission that he had, giving up their lives each day so that others can see the redeeming character of his grace.
I would submit that this charge is nearly impossible to live out inside of the private, cloistered religiosity that our secular western world says we are supposed to have. If we are to be agents for change, as Jesus was, as all of his disciples were, then the environment of gospel-centered community is where we must start.
In the absence of a community, the minister’s first and most important task is to build a village — one where God’s grace is evident and the weak are lifted up. It is in belonging to such a community that others will find the tools they need to one day believe, just as Thomas found the faith he needed to assuage his doubts, and just as Peter found the will he needed to be true to the rock of his salvation.