The Church is many things. It is a building – built on the foundation of the prophets and apostles. It is a family – children adopted by the loving father through the sacrifice of the firstborn son, Jesus Christ. It is also a body – each member functioning differently but in a cohesive unit under it’s head, Jesus.
But the Church us also a community. And more so than this, each local church is a community. And as much as we hate to admit it, we don’t like that. Why?
- The Cost – Community has a lot of benefits like combined resources,
help when you need it, and companionship. But these come at a cost. To benefit from combined resources, I must relinquish my hold on at least some of my personal resources. This includes money, time, emotional reserves, and much more. To receive help when I need it, I must also be willing to help others when they need it. This requires sacrifice of the above mentioned resources, but also the pain of entering into other people’s problems. And companionship, while a benefit, risks the possibility of breaking down both the physical and relational walls that I’ve built in order to make myself feel less vulnerable and open to frustration and pain. If people get inside my walls, they will see the parts of me that I’d rather were left unseen. All of these realities (and more) cost me my wealth, my emotional security, and my pride. Ouch.
- The Accountability – Even when the costs don’t deter us, we often chafe at the idea of being held accountable to someone else, and especially a group of people. Communities function best when the members are self-sacrificing and purposefully pursuing a common goal. When one member steps out of line, the role of the community is to provide pressure to bring that person back to the stated ideals and purposes of the community. This sounds harsh, but every community that intends to survive and thrive must operate this way. And when the goals are directed by God, the need for accountability increases. We can’t afford to let sin, anger, malice, and jealousy interrupt God’s purposes for the church. With this accountability comes the dirty word, discipline. And nobody loves that.
- The Mess – Sometimes if feels like it would be much easier if the church were more like a business. If someone isn’t performing well, move them (or remove them). If someone better comes along for a role, replace the previous person no matter what sacrifices they’ve made to serve in the past. If one person is angry at another, just push it aside and get the work done. But in a community, these things don’t work. People matter. Hearts matter. Relationships matter. And therein lies the mess. Challenges must be worked through instead of simply dealt with. People will get hurt. Boundaries will be crossed. Bruises will be common.
Considering the costs, the accountability, and the messiness, why even bother with community anyway? Can’t we just bypass all of this and avoid many of the problems that come with community? Is it even worth it?
Of course, the answer is that community is totally worth it. For starters, this is the environment from which our great hope for our salvation arose. Jesus entered into community at great cost, with accountability to all humanity and his Father in heaven, and steeped in messiness. Taking up our cross daily is, in part, the process of living in relationship with other fallen human beings. Not only does Jesus model it, but it is the environment in which he chose to place the great hope of our purpose, our commission. The Church is the method God chose to use to spread his work of salvation throughout the Earth. And finally, all of the challenges of community make us more like Jesus, who learned righteousness through suffering. Sure, it isn’t the level of suffering that Jesus endured on the cross, but being in community with other believers is a honing and sharpening reality. It makes us better.