Nothing is truly ordinary

The Heart of Community

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Community.

That word sits parked at the middle of many church titles.  “******* Community Church.”

In the 90s, this word became a part of church culture.  Everybody wanted it.  Everybody claimed it in their titles.  It’s non-denominational “vibe” replaced words like Baptist, Presbyterian, and Methodist on their church signs.

Community was THE buzz word.  “Hey, we have COMMUNITY.  Come here and feel comfortable.”  During the adolescent era of the modern, “welcoming” church, EVERYONE talked about community.  It was what made the difference between being a REAL church and just…church.

Never mind that it’s redundant – that the word “church” itself is derived from the Greek ecclesia (which best translates as “community with purpose”).  So when you say, “community church,” it’s like saying “canine dog” or “automotive car.”

CHURCH church.  That’s what we meant.

I guess.

Or maybe we didn’t know what we meant.

That’s the problem with buzz words.  They SOUND good.  We even have an inkling of what they mean.  But too often, the words have no depth – no real definition.  As buzz words, they may make great marketing tools, but as foundational words up on which you implement a vision from God, often we miss the mark.

Maybe that’s why many people outside of our Christian circles don’t trust words like “community” anymore.  Because that’s not what they see.  What they see is a bunch of squabbling “toddlers” who don’t forgive one another, won’t accept certain people, and even eat their own when threatened.  To the outside world, “community church” can be as oxymoronic as ordering a diet Coke with a Big Mac and fries.

***

But Scripture lays it out plain as day.  One of my favorite passages about godly community is found in Colossians 3.

You see, community is not a gimmick.  Nor is it what accidentally happens when you get two or more Christians in the same space.

Community is the intentional result of people behaving in a Christ-like manner towards one another.  Period.

Christ like.

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand.  Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth  (Colossians 3:1-2).

It starts with valuing what Christ values.  For Christ, the church he was building was not to be a gimmick.  It wasn’t to be this shallow gathering of the “Sunday club.”  It was to be HIS body – His hands, His feet – to continue to do HIS work in the world after He was resurrected.  So “community” starts with setting our eyes on Christ and asking the question – “Jesus, what would you have us do?”

And when you set your eyes on Christ’s goals, you become transformed.

Now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds (Colossians 3:8-9).

Anger and rage issues?  Sorry.  Get in the habit of biting your tongue.  In the church, there is no place for tempers and selfish-driven tirades telling others how so-and-so pissed you off.  No malice.  No language digging up the dirt on people – no mud slinging (which is TRUE dirty language – what we should be more obsessed with than what we usually call “cussing.”).  No lying – because that’s no longer who we are.

Be Christ-minded, get rid of bad habits.  This community is supposed to be something different, without the “games” so often found in our cliques.  Be like God instead.  In fact, that’s EXACTLY what the Apostle Paul says:

 Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. (Colossians 3:10)

New.  “New” is a good thing.  It’s that whole transformational thing that Paul is getting into.  What does it look like?

In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free… (Colossians 3:11)

…or black or white, rich or poor, Baptist or Methodist, whether you consume alcohol or you don’t, and on and on.  This new nature – this NEW community – isn’t a club that sets itself apart like a fraternity or gang or sect or country club or interest group.  Groups like these are known for whom they exclude.  The Church is to be known for whom it INCLUDES.

Can you imagine how energetic and alive the church would be if we would be more concerned about whom we included, than whom we want to keep out??  Gone would be debates over alcohol consumption, worship style, and even (I dare say) more controversially tiresome issues like sexual orientation.  We would be a community that chooses to err on the side of grace, rather than a group of people always ready to cast that first stone.  Community would be so much more than a buzz word.  It would be transformational – as its very members are transformed and the world they impact is transformed along with them.

But Paul isn’t done.  He wants us to know HOW to become this way, and why.

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience (Colossians 3:12).

Since God wants US to be this community, we MUST wear it.  Mercy.  Kindness. Humility. Gentleness.  Patience.  EACH one of these words carry a lot of weight, and we are supposed to wear them.  “This is your fashion.  This is your style.”  It’s not about skinny jeans, scarves, ties, Easter dresses, or choir robes.  THIS is what it means to “put on your best” for God.  We wear Christ’s nature.

And when we wear it, the very dynamic of our friendships changes.  We no longer view each other the same way.  We are now playing by new rules:

“Make an allowance for each others faults…” (v. 13).  Give people room to screw up, because they will.  Can you imagine how much “drama” could be avoided if we gave people room to make mistakes before we just reacted in anger?

“Forgive anyone who offends you,  Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you MUST forgive others…” (v. 13).  The Lord forgave you…and let’s be honest for a second: If you are anything like me, that’s saying something huge.  I may not know your darkest sins and secrets, but God does.  And he’s forgiven you for them.  Having a Christ-like mindset means forgiving those who have hurt us.  It is NOT optional.  Nor can we say nonsensical phrases like, “Well, I’ll forgive, but I’ll never forget.”  Sorry, that’s not forgiveness – that’s faking it.  True love keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5).

***

Paul says all this to show us WHAT the heart of a Christ-like community looks like.  “Community” is not just a buzz word.  It’s not the exclusive cliques many of our churches have become.  There’s no room in here for the competitive spirit of “vs.” that we often have when comparing ourselves to the other churches around us.  It is also is something far deeper than mere friendship.

Community is supposed to be something completely transformational, starting with ourselves and spreading – virally – to all those around us as we LIVE OUT the love of Christ.

Because in the end, THAT is what it’s all about.  That’s the WHY:

And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus (Colossians 3:17)

Eclessia – a community with a purpose:  To be living, breathing, loving, caring, forgiving, merciful, humble, accepting representatives of Jesus Christ in the world.

The Heart of community is simple.

It’s HIS heart.

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