Fostering a Compelling Community



In the previous post, I began by sharing about all the books I have consulted to help me "create" community in the church.  This word is in quotes for a reason, namely because the idea that we can "create" community in the church is simply assinine.  If we all agree that the kind of community that exists in the church is first of all supernatural, who on earth would ever be able to "create" community besides the Holy Spirit Himself.

There is better a word.  "Cultivate."  There is in the divine image of God stamped on mankind the call to cultivate.  Some may cry foul and say I am merely dealing in semantics.  But am I?  I think not. There is a difference between creatingand cultivating.  God created the world and he created mankind.  Creation is God's work.  On the other hand, mankind being made in the image of God is called to cultivate God's creation as stewards.  So then "cultivating" is a necessary distinction and perhaps it will help us think better about how to pursue "compelling community" at Grace Church.

When we consider the call to cultivate a new community in the local church, we need to look at it from the pewand the pulpit.  Let's start with the pew.  Each member of Grace Church signed a covenant with the other members of the church to pursue a peculiar (unique) community shaped by the supernatural work of the God through the preaching and teaching of God's Word and Spirit indwelt relationships.  We signed this covenant not out of comfort but from commitment.  We know that as God's people, it takes hard work coupled with supernatural love to see such a community emerge.  1 John 4:19 points the way for us:

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (ESV)

Sadly, many churches start with comfortNOT commitment.  They work to address the felt needs of the person first rather than compel them with a counter-culture of Spirit indwelt church life.  The goal in a comfort-based church is that if you treat them like consumers maybe they will grow out of their consumeristic ways once they feel comfortable.  The converse actually happens in most cases.  We find that our sinful bent toward entitlement is not easily loosened but heightened.  Now, it is important to say here that treating a new guest with slow care and not as a number to be processed is not the same is comfort based commitment.  We certainly want to give people time to make an informed decision and at times, guests do come in with some baggage that needs time to heal.  But in most cases, a deep commitment-based community whoos people who are broken and isolated because they see that the relationships thrive from their commitment to each other and not so much their comfort with one another.

So the first level of cultivation is between one member to another.  We take the responsibilities to love each other seriously and we pursue it diligently, even if imperfectly. But what of the view from the Pulpit?  Well, pastors in a comfort based church can often times function like archetypical cupids trying to match people up in relationships through affinity-based processes.  May suggest that fear runs behind this style of leadership with the thinking that "if I don't have people or subgroups that people can connect with then people will leave or not stay.  In a commitment-based church, however, the pastors teach and preach the Scriptures to spur the membership on to the vision outlined in the member covenant.  This can happen in a number of ways, but as we say a lot at Grace Church, our corporate gatherings on Sunday are the chief culture shaper of what we do as a church.

Of course, there are other mediums.  Great care should be pursued in what we choose to employ in shepherding our people into compelling Gospel community.  If the pastor assumes over-responsibility for each of his congregants, then he is might be working against their maturity in the faith.  I confess I am guilty of this at times.  Think about it.  If you are a parent, what is the process of helping your child achieve satisfactory marks in school?  Answer: you keep them accountable to do the work they are asked to do.  What if little Johnny is struggling with a subject at school?  Certainly, we come alongside him and help him.  But if I step in as a parent and do the work for him, I will only stunt his growth in the end.  As a parent with an emerging middle school student, Amanda and I have stuck to our guns of keeping our oldest son accountable to do his work and do it right.  No halfway work and no parachute parenting.  He will learn next year that he will step into a greater degree of self-management that hopefully, we have prepared him for over the past couple years.

So what if we decided that it was not first our responsibility to find a group for each member but cultivate an environment where groups develop organically and sustain themselves seasonally?  I am becoming more and more convinced that a mature church thinks this way.  So how do we do it?

  1.  A steady diet of Biblical Preaching with application toward a "one another" vision of Scripture.  It's amazing how so many of the passages of the Bible deal with inter-dealings of relationships in the church.
  2. Equip our congregation to better read the Bible.  Certainly our conviction that expository preaching is the best medium of preaching impacts this.  But other mediums do as well such as the CBR Journal.  Each member can use this journal to better read and pray through the Scriptures IN COMMUNITY.  Just do it.  Grab some ladies in the church or some of the men you know and commit to a time to grab a coffee or your favorite adult beverage (cigars are ok too!) and discuss what God is teaching you.  Again, this must be a supernatural impulse.  If you are not making room for it, perhaps there are pockets of unbelief in our lives that must be confronted in repentance and faith.
  3. Corporate and Communal Prayer.  Some of the most meaningful groups I have participated in are simply groups that made prayer central.  We prayed A LOT!  Honestly, the strength of my marriage's spiritual vitality is rooted in prayer.  What if we cultivated congregational opportunities for prayer.  Our forthcoming Men's and Women's Gathering could cultivate that. Additionally, what if we were diligent to share prayer needs as a congregation in a more orderly way?  Frankly, we can do a better job at this.  As a pastor, I want to devote more energy as your shepherd to grow this in our family.
  4. Advocate for simple and informal relationships.  Another aspect that we hope our new Men's and Women's Monthly gatherings will help us with is to help people form better relationships that carry on during the month.  We will be intentional about asking our church to schedule intentional times to grab dinner, have lunch or meet for coffee with other members of the church they don't know well.  Sunday lunches are a great way to do this.  Be intentional and grab someone and ask them out to lunch right after church if you have the financial ability to do that.
  5. Keep our Congregational Calendar Clear.  We do our best to keep our church streamlined so that you are free to pursue informal relational connection.  I hope we always will.  Additionally, let's slow down on Sunday.  Your afternoon nap can wait.  Let's not be in a hurry to run out the door unless it's out to lunch with another member.  Perhaps, we should make Sunday Congregational lunches more frequent so that we don't run out so quickly.  Just a thought!

I hope these posts on pursuing a compelling community have been helpful.  It is my heartfelt desire to see our church flourish in Gospel rich relationships that develop from the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.  Would you join me in praying and pursuing this together?