In What Type of Community Must the Church Live? – Part 3

As Christians we are supposed to live in authentic and interdependent community. If you want to know what that looks like and why, check out my last two posts here and here.

While I believe I’ve argued well for why we must live in authentic and interdependent community and what it looks like, that doesn’t mean we know how to develop that type of community. Today, that’s what I’ll focus on –– how we develop authentic and interdependent community with one another.

How do we develop authentic and interdependent community with one another?

We can start by looking at what took place in the early church. Looking at Acts 2, we see that the early church:

  • Immersed their lives in God’s Word together.
  • Prayed together.
  • Shared each other’s burdens.
  • They laughed, they cried, they parented, they ate together.
  • They celebrated the Lord’s Supper together, proclaiming in a visible way to the world that Jesus is their Savior.
  • They served each other and the community.
  • They sacrificed for one another.
  • They made sure each other’s needs were met.
  • They extended hospitality to those around them.
  • They were on mission together, seeking to win others to Christ and helping each other grow in their Christian walk.

These are the things the early church did.

You are a necessary part of the body of Christ.

Along with doing these things, they saw themselves as a necessary part of the body of Christ. They knew that they were missed. They knew that they were hindering the church’s growth and mission when they failed to participate.

You must be willing to share your lives with others.

As well as they were willing to share their lives with each other. They were open. They were transparent. They shared more than their physical needs with others. They also shared their spiritual needs.

So we must not only participate in the same activities as they did, but we must see ourselves as a necessary part of the body, and we must be willing to share our lives with one another. Those you attend church with should know how to pray for you. Not just physically but spiritually. They should know your fears, your struggles, your joys.

I know hearing that probably sounds a bit invasive. But that’s what it takes to live in authentic and interdependent community with one another. If we always keep one another at arms length, if we never let anyone in, we aren’t really depending on them. Instead we are depending on ourselves. But that’s not how a body operates. Your arm doesn’t depend on itself. Instead, it depends on the rest of the body in order to work. We must do the same. We must depend on one another in order to live in authentic and interdependent community.

Conclusion

How are you doing with that? Do you see yourself as someone who just lives in proximity to others? Or are you living in or at least working towards living in authentic and interdependent community with your local church members?

If we are going to be authentic disciples, then we must also live in interdependent community. We must do it, not only for our own spiritual growth, but for the spiritual growth of others, and the furtherance of Jesus’ kingdom. So we must be disciples who live authentically and interdependently with one another in biblical community.

Resources

Post developed from my sermon In what type of community must the church live?

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In What Type of Community Must the Church Live? – Part 2

The community represented in Acts 2 reminds me of an illustration I recently read in a book. The author spoke about the giant Redwoods just outside of San Francisco in the Armstrong Redwood National State Reserve. These Redwoods extend skyward over a football field in length. They have stood for centuries despite heavy storms coming through the region. The way they have been able to face storm after storm after storm without toppling over has to do with their root system. When you read about their roots, you learn that they are only about 12 feet under the surface. While 12 foot is not shallow, it doesn’t seem deep enough to hold a tree 100 or more yards in height in the ground against fierce winds. On it’s own it probably wouldn’t. But the giant Redwoods aren’t standing on their own. If you were to scrap back the earth, you would see an intertwined network of roots. The Redwoods are able to stand because they live in community with one another. In other words, they depend on one another for strength. What they couldn’t do on their own, they are able to do in community.  So that’s how they have been able to stand for 100’s of years despite the storms Mother Nature throws at them.

Likewise, the only way we are going to be able to endure the storms of life and thrive as God has intended us to is by living in authentic and interdependent community with one another. In other words, our spiritual roots must not just extend deep but also wide. We must be connected with and depend on our fellow believers around us. If not, we aren’t going to stand when the storms of life come at us. Instead we will fall. We need one another. We need to live in authentic and interdependent community with one another.

What does that look like live in authentic and interdependent community?

II. What does it look like for us to live in interdependent community? (vs. 44-47)

Starting in verse 44 we read,

“And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:44-47)

What I want to draw your attention to in these verses is the word “together”. It appears in verses 44 and 46. While this word is translated as the same word in English, it’s actually two different words in the Greek. As you can guess, these two words mean two different things.

In verse 44, the Greek is epi and it has to do with physical location. What that tells us is that these early Christians lived in the same place.

A. They lived in close proximity to one another.

This wasn’t a small community. In verse 41, we learn that 3,000 people were initially saved at Peter’s preaching during Pentecost. Some, I presume, went back to their towns, but others stayed in Jerusalem. Along with those who initially believed, we also learn in verse 47 that others were being added to the church each and everyday. So this was quite a large community of Christians living together with one another. I’m not exactly sure what that first community’s living quarters looked like. But what I do know is that they sold their possessions and moved so that they could live in close proximity to one another.

Now, I don’t think this means that we all have to sell our houses, secure a plot of land somewhere, and build our own community. Although, I know some of my church members wouldn’t be opposed to some folks buying and building across the street here, since they have land for sale. While they will gladly sell you a plot of land, I don’t believe that’s what Acts is teaching.

Acts is mainly a descriptive, not a prescriptive text. In other words, more often than not it tells us what the early church did and not necessarily what we must do. I believe that is the case in this text. God through the writing of Luke is calling us to do something but it’s not to move on to the same plot of land together. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with that. There are families in our church that do live on the same plot of land. If anything that can be very beneficial. I’m sure the families here would agree. But that is not what God is calling us to do — that part is descriptive.

That, however, doesn’t mean God isn’t calling us to do something. We have the book of Acts for a reason even if it is written in more of a descriptive fashion. What I believe that we, as 21st century Christians, are to take from this is that:

B. The church we are involved in and its members should be local to us.

In other words, it should be in the same community in which we live. We should be able to “run into” other church members while we are out and about.

That means then that we shouldn’t be members of a church that is located outside of our community just because it is the popular church in the area or we like the speaker. No, we must live in proximity to those with whom we attend church. That makes sense if we are going to genuinely devote our lives to one another. That’s hard to do if we don’t ever see one another. Or if it is a burden or hassle to get together with one another. So we must live in close proximity to one another, just as those in the early church did. In other words, the church we attend must be local.

That idea that we must be a part of a local church gains even more traction when we consider the second “together” used in these verses. It is found in verse 46. It is the Greek word homothumadon. Literally this word means to have the same fiery passion. It’s to be intensely unified with another like fans who cheer on their home team.

I know most of you in Decatur like football. Even if you don’t, being from Decatur, you probably still attend the Homecoming festivities — the parades, pep rallies, and the game. Those who attend those activities don’t sit there half asleep. They engage, they cheer, they root for the home team. If you were to take a step back and get a birds eye view of the stands, especially if Decatur was driving down the field for the winning touch down, you would see a fiery passion, a sense of unity among the fans. That fiery passion, that unity that draws you together is the idea that this word is trying to convey. This is why some translations translate it as “one accord.”

But this word doesn’t just carry the idea of being in one accord with other spectators at a sporting event. It goes much deeper than that. It carries the idea that we are to be together, in one accord with one another, on a deep spiritual and emotional level. What this word tells us then is that:

C. We are to live interdependently.

Living interdependently means that we are together in both proximity and in dependent community.

Think about the example of the Redwoods that I opened with. They exist in proximity to one another, as well as they depend on one another. They live in interdependent community. That’s how the first church lived. That’s how we are to live as well. 

Now, living in interdependent community of course means that we live in proximity to one another. But:

Interdependent community takes us much deeper than proximity.

Even though proximity is associated with interdependent community. To a certain extent living in proximity is easy to attain. All it takes is for us to live in the same community and attend the same local church on a regular basis. Proximity is really nothing more than seeing one another, saying hey, shaking hands, sitting in the same Sunday School class and sanctuary together. So achieving proximity is really not all that difficult. But it is the first and a necessary step to living in interdependent community.

That tells us, then, that

We can’t just stop at proximity, we have to keep going until we also are living lives that are depending on one another for growth and godliness.

We need to get to a place where we believe that we need each other in order to grow in Christ, that we need more than just Jesus, a Bible, and a quiet a place. Don’t get me wrong, we need time alone with Jesus. We need our time in the Word and in prayer, but we also need one another. We have to recognize that or we will never live in interdependent community with one another. We will never see the value of asking someone else to pray for us. We will never see the value of asking another to hold us accountable. We will never see the value of getting together with one another in Bible Study. We will never see the value of serving one another by using our spiritual gifts.

So we must get to a place where we believe that we need one another in order to grow in Christ and accomplish our mission as the Church.  I’m not talking about a physical need. Certainly, we need others to help us with things. We need people who are willing and able to cook meals for those who can’t do it on their own. We need people to go and fix things at other people’s houses. We need others to give us a ride at times. We need each other physically.

But we also need to go deeper than that, so that we recognize the fact that we need each other spiritually. The first church saw that need, and that’s what drove them to sell everything, to move in with one another, and to gather together on a daily basis to not only fulfill the physical but the spiritual as well. They saw their need for one another. If we want to be a growing vibrant church that is making disciples, we must see that need and we must allow others to meet that need.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Do we see a need for one another? 
  2. Are we willing to be open and transparent so that others can fulfill that need? 

Next Time

Next time, I’ll focus on how we are to live in interdependent community with one another. 

Resources

Post developed from my sermon In what type of community must the church live?

What’s Required to Have an Effective Mercy Ministry? – Part 3

In the last few posts, we’ve seen that an effective mercy ministry not only requires compassion, but it also requires responsibility. Today, we’ll explore some guidelines by which to operate. Just as Paul gave Timothy guidelines by which to operate, we too should have guidelines by which we operate. It’s not ungodly or uncompassionate. Instead, it’s wise and helpful. It not only allows us to care for others, but it allows us to provide care in a way that is most helpful for them and best uses the resources of our church.

Just as Paul gave Timothy guidelines by which to operate, we too should have guidelines by which we operate. It’s not ungodly or uncompassionate. Instead, it’s wise and helpful. It not only allows us to care for others, but it allows us to provide care in a way that is most helpful for them and best uses the resources of our church.

Personal Guidelines

(1) Set aside a designated amount of money each month that can be used to help others.

When you run across someone needing help, you can help them without feeling like you have to break the bank or kill your budget.

(2) Pray with the person you are helping

I can’t remember if it is someone at my current church or another church that told me this. But basically, they said that the advice they were given in the past was to pray that the person would use the money you are giving them in a God-honoring way or face God’s judgment. If after praying that prayer they still wanted the money, then you should give that to them, leaving it between them and God as to what happens next.

(3) Designate a small portion of your income above and beyond your regular tithe and give that to a benevolence ministry each month. 

That could be the church’s benevolence ministry or another ministry like WARM or Wise Choices Pregnancy Resource Center. The point in doing that is that you know your money is going to be used to actually help the person. When you walk past a person begging for money, you don’t have to feel bad because you have already given to a ministry that is local and can meet their need. You can even take it a step further by stopping and pointing that person to that particular ministry.

So those are a few guidelines by which you can operate. Of course, there are more but that should get you started.

Church Guidelines

I’ll tell you what we currently do at the church I pastor. Hopefully, that will help you get the ball rolling at your church.

(1) We have a system of accountability.

Meaning that one person can’t make the decision to help someone. They have to call another pastor or deacon and run the situation by them first.

(2) We don’t give anyone money or gift cards.

Instead, we will directly pay someone’s bill, rent, or for their groceries.

(3) We have a tiered system of care.

If you are a member, regular attendee, or family or friend of a member, you can receive more assistance than someone who just randomly calls the church.

(4) We have limits on how often you can receive assistance.

Meaning that we aren’t going to continually pay someone’s bills every month without first really digging into the situation and their finances. If someone needs assistance multiple months in a row, then they have to be willing to open their finances up to us and follow a plan we develop for them based on their budget.

(5) We have a budget for benevolence 

We refer to that as our Local Mission’s Fund. A small portion of the general tithes and offerings goes into that fund every month. That is what we use to help those in need unless there is a special circumstance that requires more than that fund has. If that happens, we will take up a love offering or vote to use money out of the General Fund to help that family.

So those are some of the guidelines that we as a church operate under. We have put these in place because it allows us to be both compassionate and responsible, stewarding the resources we have as a church, as well as it also forces us to dig into the situation and provide the help the person really needs.

Conclusion

As you can see Mercy Ministry isn’t simple. It is complex. While compassion needs to be what motivates us, we also need responsibility to guide us. It’s compassionate responsibility that’s required in order for us to have an effective mercy ministry. I believe if we operate within that tension, we will be effective. As well as we will truly help those who are in need.

Question for Reflection

  1. What guidelines do you operate by personally and as a church?

Resources

Post developed from my sermon: What’s Required to Have an Effective Mercy Ministry?

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