In this series entitled, “Epidemic in the Church”, we’re learning about the problem of spiritual immaturity. If we live as Jesus did as shown in the gospels, we will develop spiritual maturity. So far, we have looked at the characteristics of identity and intimacy; this week’s message focuses on the characteristic of community, and how Jesus valued it and espoused it. And so can we! The message is based on Matthew 18.15-20. You can watch the whole worship gathering below, or just the message right below that.
This is one of those months that has five Sundays in it. Any church treasurer I’ve known wishes that every month had five Sundays! While it doesn’t happen every month, I’ve often wondered whether the unusual nature of the rhythm-breaking fifth Sunday could be harnessed in some way. While we like the idea of an extra Sunday of offerings, perhaps that fifth Sunday could also benefit those outside the church.
A couple of years ago, one of our Encouragement subscribers, Sharon, told me a story (which she gave me permission to share) about what happens in her church on the fifth Sunday of the month. In her congregation, they gather for a short worship time, and then go into the community to help their neighbours.
Sign-up sheets are provided so that activities and helpers can be coordinated. The first time the church did it, one group went to a nursing home to visit residents who never get visitors. Another group planted a vegetable garden on church property so that fresh vegetables could be provided for their local food bank. Another group helped neighbours with physical challenges tend their gardens. And yet another group picked up trash near a railroad right-of-way.
“The response from the congregants and the community was amazing,” Sharon told me. “Great bonding, lots of laughter, many community members really impressed that we would leave church to come ‘out’ and help others. It was a most powerful experience.”
If the church of Jesus is going to grow as God intends, one thing we know for sure is that reaching our neighbours is key. I encourage you to consider this tangible way to reach out, whether on a fifth Sunday or some other time. God knows the difference you could make by being ‘neighbourly’.
“Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith” (Galatians 6.10, NLT).
Most readers of Encouragement From The Word are involved in a local church, so I probably don’t need to sell you on the importance of engaging in worship. We understand the importance of the church, and we get that it’s not just a building; it’s the people that matter. It’s a community of faith. To encourage your ongoing participation, though, I want to share a quotation I read earlier this week: “The community provides rules and boundaries against which I can break off some of my sharp edges (or they are broken off!). And it provides authentic models” (Norvene Vest, Preferring Christ [Morehouse, 2004], p. 148).
Did you ever think of the church playing those roles for you? The church, the community of faith, can round some of our corners and sand us down a bit. Most of us would rather not admit our need of this, but if we’re honest, we know we all need a bit of, shall we say, smoothing out. And loving, caring Christian community can do that for us.
The church can also provide models in authenticity for us and for our children. There aren’t enough role models out there today whom we can really trust, are there? Many parents say that their kids won’t listen to them, but they’ll listen to other adults in their circle of acquaintance. The church can be the place where you find a mature follower of Jesus to mentor and disciple your son or daughter – and where another parent finds you to mentor and disciple her or his child! It also can be the place where you yourself find someone who will make a difference in your own life and walk with the Lord.
All this means, of course, that the church is not just a body gathered together for an hour (plus coffee) on Sunday morning. Deepening relationships involves an investment of time. Make no mistake – it is an investment: there are dividends that are paid. Those dividends, though, are not paid to us, at least not directly; they are paid to the person in whom we invest, and in turn, in the Kingdom of God. Think of those whom you may meet in heaven who will be able to thank you for spending time helping them love Jesus better! They may be little ones you taught in children’s ministry or adults you walk with in a small group. They may be people with whom you spent an hour in the coffee shop one day, on a whim. All because you journeyed together as the church of Jesus Christ.
Along the way, others may have come along and helped to make you a more beautiful disciple, shaping and sanding and breaking off corners to help you live more like Jesus.
Sure, there’s sawdust on the floor, and maybe bits of clay. There are empty coffee cups, poopy diapers, and notes tucked into Bibles, written on napkins. Being the church, being active, can be messy. But with God, not one bit of it is wasted.
“Let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10.25, NLT).
Yesterday, I heard a story from a woman who has experienced real community in the life of her church. When she was a new believer, she found herself on her own with four children. In need of short-term housing, one of her church friends took her and her four children in. When that short term needed an extension, it was graciously granted. When she acquired housing for herself and her kids, her church family came together to bring trucks and trailers to help them move. They set everything up, put pictures on the wall, and made it look like they’d live in the house for years.
When Christmas came, a tree was cut down for them, and people brought gifts for her and her kids. There always seemed to be food available when they were hungry. Hers is a church that takes “love one another” very seriously.
There was even more to the story, but it all spoke in grateful praise for a church family that put love in action…all in response to the question, “What do you like about your church community?”.
I asked an entire group that question, and got a wonderful rainbow of responses. Often, as followers of Jesus, we find it easy to love the Lord, but we don’t find it as easy to love his church. Yet when the church is truly being the church, there is much about her to love – because the church reflects her Lord.
Take a few minutes and do an audit of your own church: does your church reflect the Lord whom she serves? As a church, are you functioning as the body of Christ? Are you using the gifts that God has given to you in community? Twentieth century thinker Francis Schaeffer said, “Because every (one) is made in the image of God and has, therefore, aspirations to love, there is something that can be in every geographical climate – in every point of time – which cannot fail to arrest his attention. What is it? The love that true Christians show for each other and not just for their own party.” (The Mark of the Christian, p. 16)
How is your church living out God’s love? How could it live out God’s love?
“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him” (1 John 4.16b, NIV).