Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Value of Community

Acts 2:42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

 43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.

Most churches have a seating arrangement.  The seats are not officially assigned, but everyone who attends regularly knows where to sit, and in some churches, where not to sit.  I was on staff at a church not too many years ago where the ministers did not sit on stage - excuse me, on the chancel area.  We sat on the floor, chancel area left. 

There was a couple who sat across the aisle from us, one row back.  They were there every week.  One week, a family of first time guests came in and sat in the place normally occupied by the couple.  When that couple arrived and saw their seats taken, the look of shock on their faces accompanied by spastic little mini-convulsions was actually quite comical.  But that's not the point of my story.  I just thought it was funny.

I talked with the first-time guest family after church and they said they had been attending one of the three mega-churches within two miles of us.   We were joined by another couple (good friends of mine) who had joined our church a couple of years earlier.  The new family shared that they were looking for a church where they would not get lost and could know and be known by everyone.  The couple who were already members chimed in that they had joined for the same reason (and they actually had) and just loved it at our church. 

At this point, I did something some might consider risky.  I asked the couple who were members if their hope had been realized.  Did they know everyone in the church now?  We had about 1000 members and about 500 - 550 attending weekly.  Their response was, "Well, we don't know everyone yet."  So I took it a step further.  I asked them what side of the sanctuary they sat on, even though I really already knew.  They said the left.  Now, you need to understand I am really good friends with these people, so cut me some slack on this next part.  I then, smiling the whole time, challenged them saying, "Tell me the names of three people who sit on the right side of the sanctuary."  They smiled back because they could not do it. 

We all have this desire to know and be known.  It is built into us by a God who also desires to know and be known.  That's kind of why you and I are even here.  But unlike God, we have a limited capacity for knowing and being known.  This is why we need each other.  It is why we need circles of friends and churches establish small groups.  No one can do life alone, but it is also true that we cannot do it as a crowd.  That's why mega-churches break down into small groups or life groups, or whatever they want to call them.  This is where the knowing and being known takes place.  So let's lighten up on the big, evil mega-churches.  When we criticize them it just makes us sound a little sad and jealous. 

But some people run to the extreme in the other direction ,avoiding people entirely.  This is far worse than any hurdle that might exist in a larger church.  Even Jesus needed the twelve.  Not even Jesus tried to do life and ministry alone.  So the "I don't need anything but my Jesus, my Bible and my TV" folks are missing it too.  And so are the "I don't need anything but God and to be out in nature" folks.  We need each other, because Jesus usually shows up in the face, or the voice, or the actions of others with whom we are in community. 

May you find your community of friends that will encourage and love you as you grow.  And may you be an encouragement to them as well.  May you know what it's like to know and be known by a wonderful community of friends.  And may you see Jesus in the face of another, even as they see his face in yours.   

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