Why Community Matters Part II

by Will Flathers

We're looking at why the issue of community is so important for the church, so we can then explain how Gospel Communities fit into the the picture of Element. In Part I we discussed the Trinity and the Gospel.

Discipleship – That’s Why Community Matters

Discipleship is a community project. We need each other to grow more like Christ. Christian community is the context were we can be “instruments in the redeemer’s hands” and “means of grace” to each other; the context were others can remind us of the gospel when we are prone to wander; the context where others can “speak the truth in love” into our lives (Eph 4:15).

Hebrews 3:13 warns us to “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” That’s the problem with sin – it is deceitful and seems so reasonable that we are often the last ones to notice it in our own lives. The author of Hebrews says we need to exhort one another daily. We need friends who are committed to our growth in godliness. Superficial, once-a-week relationships are not very helpful in spotting sin that creeps in. We need people who know us, our strengths, our weaknesses, our prayers, our history, our hopes. We need people who are emboldened and permitted to speak the truth to us in love.

Jesus shepherds His sheep (John 10, 1 Peter 2:25), and one way He does this is through appointed leaders, who are also shepherds and overseers of God’s flock (1 Peter 5:1-4). The role of church leaders is to shepherd, guard, take care of, and be an example to the flock, subordinate to Christ. But we, the congregation, also have responsibility for pastoral care. Paul used the same wording of ‘teaching and admonishing everyone’ of both his ministry as a pastor and of the congregation (Colossians 1:28, Romans 15:14). We are to mutually teach and admonish one another, just like Paul.

The bottom line is that trying to ‘go it alone’ is dangerous and foolish and wrong. Sin is blinding.

Mission – That’s Why Community Matters

Finally, Christian community matters because it is critical to our mission of spreading the fame and name of Jesus.

Israel was called to be a blessing to the nations (Genesis 18:18-19). They were called to be a distinctive nation – a priestly kingdom among nations (Exodus 19:6). The result? Worship from nations who didn’t yet know God: upon receiving the Law, Moses challenged the Israelites to “Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.' For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?” (Deuteronomy 4:5-8). Chris Wright commented that “God’s message of redemption through Israel was not just verbal; it was visible and tangible. They, the medium, were themselves part of the message.”

Peter picks up the same language from Exodus when describing the church in 1 Peter 2:9-10, a priestly kingdom. And in a similar way, he shows that the life of the congregation invokes praise to God from those who don’t yet know God, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:24).

Jesus says that it is by our love for one another that all people will know that we are His disciples (John 13:35) – our love for one another reveals our true identity and the gospel that gives us that identity. Love does not exist in a vacuum. It exists in relationships.

Similarly, Jesus prays that we would have unity so that the world may believe that the Father has sent the Son. “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:20-23). It is our unity with one another that shows the world that Jesus is the real deal, the authentic, loving God. Again, unity does not exist in a vacuum. It exists in relationships. Francis Schaeffer concluded that: “Our relationship with each other is the criterion the world uses to judge whether our message is truthful. Christian community is the ultimate apologetic.”

People are often attracted to the Christian community before they are attracted to the message of the gospel. That’s not surprising, because when we reflect the Trinitarian community, we are showing the world the way things are meant to be, a glimpse of heaven.