Showing posts with label church family. Show all posts
Showing posts with label church family. Show all posts

20 June 2012

Belonging or activity?

Belonging and activity are both essential for healthy church life. As individuals we need to be widely connected and part of close family with Jesus. Belonging and activity are at the heart of all we are and do.

Belonging and activity
In the world of on line collaboration we can think in terms of social networks, like Facebook, and platforms for activity, like Wikipedia. Facebook connects people who know one another - family, work colleagues, neighbours. Wikipedia is a place where strangers collaborate on building an encyclopaedia.

Of course belonging and activity overlap to some extent, and relationships change. It's possible to make friends with others editing the same article on Wikipedia, and Facebook includes pages for people who share common interests.

But even if the distinction grows a little fuzzy in the middle, it's still a valid (and useful) distinction.

In terms of church life we see the same thing. Sometimes we have a sense of belonging, we see other believers as our church friends and family. Jesus tells us to love one another, we are called to care deeply. But we think in terms of activity when we work on projects of various kinds. We may do this alone or with others. Jesus tells us to feed the hungry, take in the homeless and give water to the thirsty.

If belonging becomes dominant in our thinking. If we think the purpose of the church family is solely to be together often for close community, for encouragement, and for worship we may miss opportunities for wider connection. One of the failures of church in our day is the silo mentality that fails to communicate across the divide - even in the same town. It's like family life becoming so important that we never speak to our neighbours! And we may also miss opportunities for practical action in our own district or worldwide.

But when activity looms too large we may focus so much on mission or helping the poor or praying for our nation that we have no time left for meaningful, local belonging. Either we feel we have no brothers and sisters or we abandon them through busyness.

We need both... belonging and activity... family and projects. One of the joys of a life following Jesus is that the two can (and should) be combined. But they are distinct.

Belonging and activity
The diagram (repeated here for convenience) shows the four possible combinations. At upper left are those who are well connected but don't do very much. Those of us in the lower right are actively and abundantly engaged in activity but have no roots in the church family. At greatest danger are those in the red area, loners who do little or nothing. And the best place to be is in the green zone, supporting and supported by close local church family and connected widely, but also busy with whatever tasks Papa has provided.

Pray for the right balance in your own life and in the lives of those around you. Encourage one another to move to or remain in the green zone, the place of healthy belonging and activity. Also pray that the places of belonging and the activities will be those chosen by the Father and revealed by the Spirit. Only by remaining in Papa's love and doing the things he shows us can we live in true peace and joy.

Note: I have made some changes in the light of Ashley's helpful comments (see below). The diagram shows that some people might be disconnected (ie alone, not in community) even though they may be active in prayer or other ways. Parts of the the text suggested otherwise.

23 November 2011

Simple gathering of believers

Stephanie Bennett
I have a treat for you today - a guest post from Stephanie Bennett.

She describes how she experienced family with fellow students during her college days and how Jesus was right among them. It was an experience to be cherished and something special and unusual, then and today.

I think she really has captured the essence of what it means to follow Jesus.

Celebrating Christ’s life in the Simple Gathering of Believers - Stephanie Bennett

Growing up in the midst of a nurturing, caring family where everyone is committed to each other simply because they have the same blood running through their veins is a wonderful way to learn the essentials of surviving and flourishing later in life. While many other factors contribute to ultimate happiness, it is relatively safe to assume that children growing up in the environment I just described have a greater chance at success and happiness than those who grow up in abusive or dysfunctional homes. It is the same for our spiritual lives, is it not?

I love the Body of Christ, perhaps because my first years as a new believer were spent in an organic group of Christians of all different stripes and sensibilities; each of us pursuing God to different degrees of intensity; some having grown up in Christian homes, others, straight out of the occult or atheism. For all our diversity we had several very significant things in common. Our most important commonality was that each of us had already reckoned with our own ability to produce a perfect self and upon realizing that this was impossible, we subsequently surrendered our efforts and our hearts to Jesus Christ, acknowledging Him as Lord and Savior.

Another commonality was that a day did not go by without actively seeking God, asking the Holy Spirit to give us light and guidance. We read scriptures together and discussed the Bible, going to the Lord in prayer if there was any discrepancy about a verse or fogginess in our understanding. And believe me -- there was fog. We were young adults, extremely passionate and full of zeal as we attempted to live lives in accord with God’s plan. We knew nothing, but that did not seem to matter; our youth and weakness did not work against us. Instead, it was in the acute awareness that we had nothing – no plan, no pastor, and no strategy for growth – that we learned that Christ was enough. He was enough to bring about transformation in our lives, enough to bring us joy, enough, period. We quickly learned the necessity of clinging to one another in love, giving up offenses quickly, and drawing from the richness of Christ in each other.

We also learned that being in Christ was not a monkish life. While times of personal solitude and quiet prayer were regular features in our lives, we were not called to lives of isolated existence; rather, we were called together to share life and express His life together, in one accord. What did that mean? For four years we lived it, figuring it out as we walked together, sharing His love and the lives to which He called us.

Another bit of interest during this four-year span of lavish life in the Spirit is that the group of about 30 believers was not a previously established club or organization. We came together as college students during our first semester and watched in amazement how the Lord grew us up together in Him. I often wonder if the reason so many hurting, disgruntled, and disheartened Christians got that way is because their experience in the church was so different from mine. If so, did the disappointment they experienced just become too much to handle? Did those who once knew Christ and once walked in the joy of the Lord leave Him because they grew up in a dysfunctional “church family”—one that tried to build and grow itself instead of simply learning to relate to God and each other in love?

There are probably many answers to these questions, but it seems to me that not one of them is sufficient to keep us from pursuing fellowship with God and each other. The church is a family – the more focused on Christ, the Head, the more the church will be a caring, nurturing family that can help us experience God’s love and Presence in practical, purposeful ways. But like any other family, no matter how committed to each other or how strong, the family of God is not perfect. The church is made up of imperfect people seeking God together – spurring each other on – walking daily in a life that is not insular, autonomous, or walled off from the world. It is a life that advances from faith to faith and from glory to glory. It is a life that is full of meaning and purpose, a life worth seeking. It is true life. Life ever-lasting and full of grace.

About the Author - Stephanie Bennett, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University, West Palm Beach, Florida, where she enjoys teaching and researching topics concerning mediated communication, interpersonal and relationship development, and the church and culture. (See also Stephanie's web space) An internationally published writer, she has long written for the popular press and has recently authored her first book, Communicating Love: Staying Close in a 24-7 Media-Saturated Society (also for Kindle),  Stephanie invites dialogue at steffasong@aol.com. She and her husband, Earl, make their home in sunny, south Florida, USA.

Note added by Chris J: There's a great deal of veracity and life in what Steph has written here. I can identify a series of important and lasting truths illustrated from personal experience. How many can you identify as you read? Please leave some comments on anything that particularly strikes you.

29 October 2011

Stamford - Fisherfolk evening

< 24th October 2011 | Index | 7th November 2011 >

This evening took me back to the 1970s and 80s in more ways than one. The music was great and a lot of good thoughts were shared, in the songs, in the form of short stories and experiences from the past, and in conversation afterwards.

Some friends from the 1970s, Paul and Jenny, had invited me to a Fisherfolk evening. They planned to play some of the wonderful old music created as part of the Charismatic Renewal, a revival that swept through the church at that time.

We gathered at Stamford Free Church where there was a warm welcome. When the band of five musicians began playing and singing I was astonished at the quality of the music. I'd known it would be good, but somehow they had really captured something of the original Fisherfolk feeling.

All the songs were familiar and I certainly enjoyed myself. But I'd like to explain how the evening affected me in other ways, ways that are relevant today, not just memories of the past.

Dot, introducing the songs, spoke eloquently about joy and family. She explained there had been no joy in going to church when she was young. She was very aware of the responsibilities laid on her, almost as if she had to earn her way to heaven. Many people still see things this way.

For Dot it all changed, she was filled with joy, she was baptised, and she discovered a sense of family. She was surrounded by brothers and sisters in this new life of fellowship! Dot reminded me how important family is. We are supposed to live in our Father's house. We are meant to be at home with him. And we are meant to be full of life and joy and love.

Whenever and wherever people follow Jesus wholeheartedly they will be full of life, joy and love. The fruit of the Spirit is more fundamental than the gifts. And when we live like that the world will see Jesus in his people.

Thank you Dot and Jenny (vocals), Mark (drums), Paul (guitar) and John (piano). Thank you for reminding me how we should all live today. I can hardly do better than finish with a few words from  one of the songs.
For our lives together, we celebrate
Life that lasts forever, we celebrate
For the joy and for the sorrow
Yesterday, today, tomorrow
We celebrate
< 24th October 2011 | Index | 7th November 2011 >

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