Grace Church: A Compelling Community
Looking at my bookshelf right now, one thing is glaringly obvious. I have put a lot of time and resources into thinking of how to "create" community in the churches that I have served. The question that seems to nag me, though, is has it helped? I suppose it has on some levels. I can look around me and see fruitful relationships between myself and others as well as among the fellowship at large. But the question still haunts me. "Is community more than simply organizing small groups?" "Are we getting it right?" "How will I know?" "Is there any way to measure it besides counting the heads who attend worship on Sunday and who participate in a Grace Community?" Alas, I don't know.
Enter The Compelling Communityby Jamie Dunlap and Mark Dever. I quickly read this book about 2 years ago, but if I am honest, it didn't make a huge impact on me at the time. I think the stress of getting a church started forced me to dig into the old tool chest and pull out what I knew rather than really think about what kind of community I wanted to see develop at Grace Church. This, of course, is not to say that God has not blessed us as a church in developing meaningful community. In the past 2 years, we have seen much good in our small group environments and we certainly have seen our challenges. Let me be clear, SMALL GROUPS ARE IMPORTANT. They often foster an environment that we cannot create in a larger church program or gathering. I'll say it again, SMALL GROUPS ARE IMPORTANT and always will be in the life of our church.
I guess by now you feel a big ol' BUT coming on. You would be right! Small groups are hugely helpful but what I have seen in my own experience is that churches are looking for a turnkey program to do ALL community in the church. That is why so many books are written on how to do effective small group ministry. But if that were true, then God would have commissioned community groups instead of the church. No my friends, the local church should be a multifaceted tapestry organically shaped by a "gospel culture" that results in a COMPELLING community. No ONEsmall group can do that in and of itself.
I am so grateful that I decided to pick up Dunlap and Dever's book again and read it more intently this time. The rich vision they cast that is saturated in Scripture has been an ointment to the nagging questions I have been wrestling with over the past couple years. Over next couple posts, I want to share with you some of the nuggets I have gleaned from this wonderful book in hopes that it will help us continue to grow into a compelling community. INDEED WE ALREADY ARE A COMPELLING COMMUNITY! God has enrichened us with people from a variety of backgrounds and stages of life. I am praying that we keep seeing it happen for many years to come.
In THE COMPELLING COMMUNITY, Dunlap exposes 2 types of visions that exist in evangelical churches today. The first is a Gospel + community. This is what I believe most churches are like today. Their communities may very well be rooted in the biblical gospel but it is often built on other supplements as well. These churches are built on the Gospel + "similar life experience", "similar identity", "similar cause", "similar needs" or "similar social positions." If we look around us, we can all probably see how this is true of us as well. A lot of the people we spend our time with are probably in similar seasons of life. I know that is the case for me. And that is not wrong in and of itself. But I have heard more than a few people come to me over the years and say, "I need a new small group because I have nothing in common with the people that are in my group now" or they may even take it a step further and deduce that the whole church is the problem.
Juxtapose this against another vision. This vision is the road less traveled for sure but it is the road most longed for when people come to the end of themselves. This 2nd vision is called a "Gospel Revealing" community. In this kind of community, it is clear that many of the relationships would not exist without the power and truth of the Gospel. What if the job of the shepherds of the church is to help our sheep get out of their comfort zones and their daily ruts of life and help them engage in a supernatural community. Isn't this the purpose of the church? Did not Jesus commission the church to make the Gospel visible both through proclamation AND through seeing enemies and strangers become brothers and sisters? If not, then how do we explain Paul's words in Ephesians 2? I, for one, think this is indeed the mission Christ commissioned his church to pursue!
Here is the challenge that we must face as the church. If our affinities are what really draws us together and not the supernatural work of the Gospel, then this community would likely exist even if the gospel did not. Sadly, this is the case in many churches today. Many churches have lost their zeal for mission and their spiritual vitality because they have drifted into a "common bond" community rather than a "spiritual bond" community.
In the next post, I will discuss how we (meaning Josh, Delon and the Deacons) are reassessing our goals AND our strategy for the community at Grace. We will explore some of the ways we can Foster Compelling Community at Grace Church. Stay tuned!
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