Thursday, December 7, 2017

More about the Stewardship of Community

Like the previous theme we touched on, Stewardship of Creation, this theme of the Stewardship of Community permeates the Bible from start to finish. In the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, the only time God says something is NOT good -- in contrast to all the times God repeats the idea that something he's created is "good" -- is when God says in Genesis 2 that "it is not good for the man to be alone." God designed humans for community, and he creates it right there in the Garden. He created the man for community with himself, yes, but also for a human community and partnership. Then God delights, apparently, to come walking in the Garden in the cool of the day, partaking of and enjoying this community himself.

Later, when God chooses a man to deal with the brokenness introduced into his good creation by the destructive power of sin, he doesn't just choose an individual -- he chooses Abraham to be the father of a great nation. It is through the community of the nation descended from Abraham that God will do his ultimate work on behalf of the whole creation.

When God gives his law through Moses, he gives it into the relational context of the community of Israel, encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai in an orderly community centered in the tabernacle, the "tent of meeting" where God lived among his people. Many of the laws and sacrifices instituted there deal with keeping people in proper relationship with each other.

And when Jesus "pitched his tent" (the literal meaning of John 1:14) among us, he immediately surrounded himself with a community of men and women who would form the nucleus of his ongoing movement after his resurrection. The book of Acts is laser focused on the life and growth of this community. Most of Paul's letters deal very clearly with the stewardship of the community centered in Jesus Christ. At the end of the Bible, the book of Revelation envisions people from "every tribe and tongue, every race and nation" gathered around the throne of God and of the Lamb -- and the book ends with the city of God coming down out of heaven, the place where God will dwell with his people, in the heart of their community.

The Stewardship of Community is one of the great tasks of the church. Yet so many churches assume the existence of and the health of the community. There's little intentionality about it. You have some churches that allow you to be completely anonymous, and others that are like the bar on "Cheers," where everybody knows your name. And neither option is necessarily healthy. Most churches think they're incredibly friendly, but most unchurched visitors never return precisely because they don't feel welcome. Professional church leaders are often run off their feet pursuing the care of physical, emotional, and spiritual needs in their flock -- when those needs, biblically speaking, belong not to the professional pastors but rather to the whole community, the whole body.

It's an amazing exercise to read the Bible looking for guidelines of how to build a community. Themes like leadership development, conflict resolution, self-giving love, and development and use of diverse gifts fairly leap off the pages when you start to look for them.

Trouble is, the life of the community is where things start to get really messy. This is where letting go of offenses and forgiving others comes into play. This is where learning to live as imperfect people who hurt and damage one another becomes an issue. This is where letting go of my own agendas and putting my neighbor's needs first really matters. And none of us enjoys those sacrifices and disciplines, at least not at first. Living in community, tending the community, is an ongoing challenge that takes a lot of work and a lot of intentionality. But if we're going to build the church the way Jesus talked about it, the way the Bible describes it, we have to pay attention to the Stewardship of Community.

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