After spending time in tightly knit Christian communities that thrived because of their love for each other and their welcoming atmosphere I became concerned that we desired simple friendships more than we desired to live as community on a mission to proclaim the Gospel. While these communities seemed healthy on the outside, it became apparent that they were little more than social club instead of being communities committed to a common mission for the glory of God. We find the beginning of this discussion in Matthew 28:16-20, as Jesus gives his motley crew of disciples their life mission. In those four verses Jesus says:
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
From these words and the examples of the disciple’s journey seen throughout the book of Acts, we receive a picture of what it looks like to bring glory to God’s name by bringing men to sing the praises of a crucified Lord.
The problem with this, and my reason for writing, is that for us to do so there must be inward change that produces outward action. There must exist within our churches the understanding that like the tide, the Gospel comes in and transforms us but just as quickly it draws us out back into the vast abyss of life, calling us to proclaim its message.
As churches, old and new, view the changing times and the decline in church interest, questions begin to arise about what can be done to attract the next generation. Instead of being focused on proclaiming the gospel, many churches have turned their focus to creating close relationships and community, seeing that this is something the new generation longs for. What is missed is that true community, authentic relationships, the type seen in Acts 2:44 and Acts 4:32, happen when a group of people with the same mission join forces in order that they may proclaim their message with a greater voice.
If we continue down this road, making community our mission (or even idol), soon we will lose focus of our true mission (proclaiming the Gospel), ultimately distorting our identity and function as the body of Christ.
Community MUST NOT BE AN END in itself but a bi-product of pursuing the mission of Christ whole heartedly, and finding that great encouragement comes from doing this with others.
If we are to be the church that Christ desires for us to be there must be a return to this understanding of mission. I am not calling us to stop anything, but for a refocusing and restructuring of our church’s mission. A restructuring that looks not to the bi-products first, attempting to falsely produce them, but looks first to the Gospel and seeks to allow its natural, tide like motion to work in us. If this happens, not only will our impact in proclaiming the Gospel message be greater in our city, but the community that we develop with one another will be greater and deeper as well. Therefore, may we be a people who allow the Gospel to come into our lives, transform our hearts, draw us together into deeper community, and then push us out into the world to proclaim its powerful message.