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Christ's Blueprint for his Church: Community
by Tom Goodman
April 8, 2010

Former U.S. Senate chaplain Richard Halverson offered this tongue-in-cheek history of the church:

The church began as a fellowship of men and women centered on Jesus Christ.  It went to Greece and became a philosophy.  It went to Rome and became an institution.  It went to Europe and became a culture.  It came to America and became an enterprise.

But the best word to describe the church is "community."

If you're a church leader, it's important to review Christ's vision for his church.  Here's how the Apostle's Creed summarizes it....

I believe in the one holy church
The communion of saints

We are to be "one," "holy," and a "communion."  In LeaderLines, we're taking three weeks to reflect on each of those three words.  Two weeks ago we looked at the oneness Christ expects.  Last week we looked at the holiness Christ expects.  Now let's look at the community Christ expects.

The communion of saints.  It's no accident that the word "communion" sounds so similar to the word "community," which is probably a more familiar term in our culture.  Both words capture the same thought of a group of people who have certain things in common -- they know each other, and they want similar things out of their relationships with each other.  They also maintain a certain level of loyalty and appreciation for each other, and they hold each other accountable to agreed-upon standards.

When I think of God's hopes for Hillcrest, I know he wants us to be a fellowship and a partnership.  The first word looks inward; the second word looks outward.  The first word speaks of sharing life together; the second word speaks of pursuing goals together.

First, we are a fellowship.

The first gathering of believers was described with these words:  "They devoted themselves... to the fellowship" (Acts 2:42).  They met regularly together, prayed for each other, worshipped together, and shared possessions with those who had needs.  The warm fellowship impressed and attracted others so much that new people were joining daily.

The Christian life was not meant to be a solitary life.  The Bible says that our fellowship with God is proven valid by our fellowship with his people:  "No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is made complete in us" (1 John 4:12).  Verses like this remind us we cannot really say we're connected to God unless we're also connected to other believers -- with all the patience and forgiveness and sensitivity that such a connection requires.

Second, we are a partnership.

In addition to thinking of our community of believers as a "fellowship," it's also important to remember we are a "partnership."

Paul wrote to one church with deep fondness because they understood the importance of working together and not just assembling together.  He reminded them:  "In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel" (Philippians 1:4-5).  He often expressed by name his appreciation for the men and women who shared the ministry with him.  Their names show up in his letters: Timothy, John Mark, Luke, and little-known personalities such as Phoebe, Epaphras, Euodia, and Syntyche (see Romans 16:1, Colossians 1:6-7, Philippians 4:2-3, 1 Thessalonians 3:2, and 2 Timothy 4:11).

As we put our faith in Jesus and start spending time with a congregation of fellow believers, we need to identify the ways we can be useful to that gathering.  We partner together through financially supporting the work, through praying for God's blessing on the work, through offering suggestions to improve the work, and through volunteering in the work.  The church isn't an institution that does things for us; the church is a com-munity of believers who have partnered together to make a difference in the world.  When we say, "I believe in the church, the communion of saints," we are committing to investing in both fellowship and partnership with others who have drawn the same conclusions that we have about Jesus.

We need to be both, not one or the other.

The fact that Hillcrest is a fellowship reminds me to look inward at the life we should share together.  The fact that Hillcrest is a partnership reminds me to look outward at the work we should do together.

Without both considerations, our community of believers becomes imbalanced.  Without a sense of fellowship, all we would do is tackle our projects, complete our assignments, and finish our work.  In such settings a person's moral choices would never be challenged, his beliefs would never be refined, and his needs would never be addressed.  On the other hand, without a sense of partnership, a congregation quickly becomes introverted.  Soon, the only factor that is addressed in deciding what to do is simply that which pleases the current participants.  So, we are supposed to be a fellowship that meets each other's needs and a partnership that mobilizes people for meaningful action.

Deciding to become a Christ-follower means joining other believers to fulfill the vision of oneness, holiness, and community in our life together.   As church leaders, this is a vision worth putting in front of disciples.

(This week's edition of LeaderLines is adapted from Chapter 14 of my book, The Anchor Course: Exploring Christianity Together.  Learn more at www.AnchorCourse.org.)


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