Mez McConnell recently posted a link to a blog post by the guys at the Cripplegate which listed 40 New Testament verses which show that one cannot dispense with the local church. They are all “one another” verses. You can read them here and are well worth spending some time thinking about.
It just got me thinking. Like any church, at SPC we have our average share of “engaged” people and our share of seemingly “disengaged” people. Like any pastor, I would like to see more engagement and less disengagement in the work of the church’s ministry. This sentiment is not primarily about creating “jobs” and “ministries” so that people have practical ways to contribute. (Actually, at the moment we run a pretty minimalist ship at SPC.) What I am really concerned about, like any pastor, I hope, is the “one another” aspect of church life – a genuine communion of the saints.
Thinking beyond these verses, I have been wondering why this “one another” aspect seems so absent in people’s lives. In a setting like leafy Solihull I have noticed a few things that seem to work against this living communion:
Work is a good thing! It comes out of the creation mandate (not a necessary evil because of the Fall, as I have heard some people say). People should work to live (2 Thes 3:10,12) and to have something to share with those in need (Eph 4:28).
However, like many good things it can become an all-consuming idol. It dominates every waking thought, demands (often unpaid) overtime to get the job done. It creates fear of failure, fear of loss of advancement or fear of lost opportunity unless it is served. Time for “one another” in the church is seen as a “nice to have” but for which there is usually no time. It destroys any real effective engagement in the church and its ministry.
Christians in work need a biblical view of work and the sphere it occupies under the Lordship of Christ. It is not the sole sphere – there are others. But under Christ it is under control and is used to serve Christ, not replacing him as Lord.
Children are a blessing from the Lord! (Ps. 127:3-5) However, as with work, children can become an idol to be served. Parents are taught by our culture to fear missing out on any opportunity for their children. So parents worry about getting them to nurseries and schools; they worry about missing out in development in academic areas, sports, social-oriented organisations. Combine this with the assumed pressure of work, they feel guilty about the lack of time they have for their children. So they find it hard to say no to them and instead lead them in the ways that are truly good for them. So parents become servants of their children, filling their spare time with a full roster of activities – which usually involve significant amounts of transporting. Church life and informal one-another ministry takes a distant third place behind this and work.
Again, the sphere of family needs to take its place under the Lordship of Christ. We are not to be confused by the influence of the world and the guilt that it induces. Rather we submit to Jesus’ lordship and order our lives accordingly. Though we offer many “yeses” to our children, there need to be few “nos” for their good and the good of the church.
Some Christians have bad experiences in relationships in church in the past. This may have been because of their own immaturity at the time and they misunderstood, misread or reacted badly to the good intentions of others. Young Christians need to learn that sanctification is a long process and it goes deep. At times helpful relationships can be painful but the results are worth it in the end.
On the other hand, the cause of someone’s bad experiences could be the fault of others. Frankly, some Christians often forget, or have not learned, that the most basic ingredient of any “one another” relationship is love. Such people may have got hold of a bit of theology, good or bad, or attain to a position of influence without the spiritual maturity to go with it. They may have a tongue that is out of control and needs to be tamed. How easy it is for motives in ministry to be corrupted! Relationships can be easily ruined.
Those who have been on the receiving end of this failure have the potential to be of great service to the church because they have learned much through their experiences. They need to picked up and dusted down, have any root of bitterness removed, and put to work in informal ministry.
New Christians are simply not used to this kind of fellowship! The world is a cold place. Relationships are poor and/or transitory. In such a world commitment runs the risk of hurt later on. So why run the risk? Just keep your distance, don’t get too involved.
Sadly this is that attitude that can prevail in a church. But it is imported baggage that should have been left at the door. Churches need to work and develop a culture of love and warmth; a willingness to walk with people and sit with people through good and bad. There needs to be “stickability” in Christian relationships. If Christians persist in seeing the church as a voluntary group – where sometimes I am in, sometimes I am out – then that real stickability is left to the professionals, and you have a dead club. New Christians need to see something different – an environment in which love truly prevails.
The church is the church of Jesus Christ. We are his people because we are united to him. Because we are united to him, we are united to one another. It is not a club. It is a body and bodies work by the connectedness and interrelatedness of their parts.
Well, there are four things I could think of. Maybe you can think of more! Let’s pray that the churches we are part of will become, by the grace of God, “one another” places – a true communion of saints.