I used to believe that before we could do out reach we had to have our own house (read church) in order. And while this is partially true, the reality remains we will never see our church in perfect order. This being the case, we will never leave the four walls of our building to reach out to others. The tragic thing is this cycle feeds on itself, denaturing community, turning us inward and often at the expense of each other!
Healthy community and outreach are not an either/or, but an and/both. Let me explain. The christian community is built upon a unity in Christ. This is the primary basis of our communities thus the common denominator that trumps the cultural demarcations like wealth, sex, rank, power, ethnicity, sexual orientation or political stripe. Under the banner of King Jesus, we are one people – a peculiar people who despite great diversity are indeed one people in Christ. This is inherently messy as we learn to be one; to love, care for and appreciate those who are not like us. The process of becoming loving communities who aspire to Christlikeness as individuals and together is learning to love, appreciate and respect those who don't think like us and don't look like us.
This Christlikeness in a community (and individually) is formed on the way, by living it out in real, everyday life. We can have great ideas about Christlikeness, about christian community but unless these things manifest in the every day, these ideas are not transformational. When we choose to be together in Christian community, it provides a context to practice and grow in Christlikeness. It is the proving grounds where we learn to love others who may be quite different than we are. A place where we discover that our weakness and strengths contribute to the christian community as a whole. It is a place where we learn to love one another, forgive one another, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile and lay down our lives for others. Don’t worry – real (and healthy community) will provide plenty of opportunities to practice this Christlikeness. It will go a long way in teaching us to pray and experience both sides of mercy and grace. In sharing life and working together, it provides a context for relationships to form and to deepen. It offers an opportunity for us to cooperate, to share life as our “stuff” bumps up against others “stuff”. Then to choose to forgive, to choose to dispel stereotypes, false judgments, and allows for old gifts to be honored and new gifts to be discovered.
Just as the individual needs a small community of like-hearted folks, the healthy Christian community needs the community at large - your neighbourhood or town. It is in the context of the wider community that the Christian community can practice being a light in the world, agents of peace, reconciliation, service and justice. This posture is not only a benefit to the wider community but provides a greater context in which we share a mission – practicing loving and serving others together. While there are times we stop and reflect on Christian community development, opportunities for growth and healing, this is not done alone to the exclusion of other things, it is done in the context of real life.
The emphasis is not the mission's successful completion alone, but the way we do mission. Are we loving, honest and actually doing it together? How did we steward challenges? Power? How well did we love each other? How we achieve the project, how we do mission says as much about us and our community health as the project itself – probably more.
By developing our Christian community on the way, it provides an excellent context for deepening identity as a Jesus community – love inspired relationships and mission. Likewise, this rhythm causes a dynamic transformation in our individual lives, Church community life and impacts the wider community. For us, we get hands-on experience as we practically learn to live faith-filled life together.
The wider community gets a two fold blessing both of which are the overflow of genuine love meeting real needs and witnesses a living example of Kingdom community, of a diverse group of people learning to love each other. This is an authentic sign and wonder!
This will naturally begin to fuel a new dynamism in individual lives as they grow deeper in their relationship with Christ, as they begin to see themselves as a part of something bigger than themselves in a Christian community and see how they can be agents of the Kingdom in the community at large.
The key to remember is that in all things Christ. By this, we live individually and together corporately in Christ, and this is all practically lived out in the context of the real world living. We learn to live loved by God and in turn lives of love in ways that are deliberate, natural and concrete.