3. What is a community of faith
The most effective means for proclaiming the Gospel is a real life Christian community. The nature of the Gospel demands it. The good news about the kingdom of God cannot be fully understood or appreciated if the only thing that people see is a worship service. A worship service may serve as an appealing event for consumer-minded people but not for true seekers. Even if we try to create a seeker-sensitive or seeker-oriented worship service, it will still not be enough. The kingdom of God is not about entertainment. At the same time, even if we succeed in converting a seeker to faith in Christ through the usual worship service, what have we done? We have simply perpetuated a consumer mindset which ultimately will become a handicap in reaching the world for Christ. Most churches today are full of consumers rather than missionaries. That is why we only have 11 million evangelicals out of 97 million Filipinos!
I’m not saying that worship services have no use. They do. But they have limited use, especially in view of the kingdom of God. We must create real life Christisn communities in every place and for every people group instead. This is an imperative.
But what is a real life Christian community? A real life Christian community is a medium-sized group of about 20 to 40 people, depending on the size of the house where they meet, who covenant together to learn how to obey everything that Jesus commanded (Matt 28:19-20). What are the things that Jesus commanded? Before we can answer that we need to understand what we mean by a medium-sized group.
There’s nothing magical about 20 or 40. It’s not a biblical number. But there are practical reasons why we need to aim for that size at least. First of all, most houses can only accommodate that many, and it’s important that communities meet in houses rather than in clubhouses, auditoriums, or other venues. A home is more real than an auditorium because it’s more natural to feel “at home” in the former rather than in the latter.
In addition, 20 to 40 is “small enough to care but big enough to dare.” A group of less than 20 does not have enough resources to make any real impact since their existence is not noticeable. A small group is simply that, a small group. I don’t mean to say that they cannot do anything significant. But their impact is severely limited by their size, especially if we’re talking about the good news of the kingdom of God and all its ramifications.
Furthermore, as the group becomes larger it will demand greater organization, which can eventually snuff out intimacy and spontaneity altogether. When that happens community ceases to exist. This is the reason why bigger groups complain of the lack of community. It’s not really possible in larger groups. So 20 to 40 would be just the right size for a community.
At this point, we need to distinguish between a small group and a community. They are not synonymous. Intimacy can be accomplished in a small group. That is true. So why aim for the size of a community? Because intimacy is not the only goal. To become God’s people in a certain place, they must learn to love God together, love each other, love their families, and love the lost around them.
Now the last part is difficult, even though not impossible, for a small group to accomplish all by themselves. A small group can love the lost around them but the impact is lessened because of their size. They can only do so much and so little. At the same time, people can easily explain away why a small group of people is helping a person. He or she may just be a friend. But when they see a small society or a community of people who are not related to each other living together, loving God, loving each other, lovimg their families, and then doing good works in the power of God, then the whole neighborhood notices. More importantly, seekers can actually see the attractiveness of a medium-sized group because it gives them a sense of new identity. This sense of belonging is different from the sense of belonging in a small group. More of this later on.
Now it’s time to explain what we mean when we say that a community is a group of people “who covenant together to learn how to obey everything Jesus commanded.” The matter of covenanting together is important. No matter the size of any group, there must always be a core of committed people inside. Otherwise the group will disintegrate. So a community must be bonded together by covenant. A covenant is a promise. Now the community is fluid since new people are always being added to it. Also, people are leaving every now and then. So there are different levels of commitment. But at its core there must be a group of people who are willing to promise each other to hold the community together to fulfill their mission.
The mission of a real life Christian community is simple and straightforward: to learn how to obey everything Jesus commanded, which is summarized in one word — love. Learning connotes the idea of process, which further connotes the idea of grace and mercy in the midst of failure or sin. We are not to judge one another but to accept one another. Nevertheless the community must be ready to confront sin whenever necessary. The goal must be love and restoration, not punishment. What Jesus commanded can be summarized into four: a) love God with our entire being, b) love one another as Christ has loved us, c) love our families as Christ loves the church, and d) love the lost by seeking and saving them just as Christ did.
In my next blogs, I will explain each of these. But for now I will draw a picture of what a typical community meeting should look like.
First of all, it should be real. The meeting must not be a program. It must simply be a gathering of people in a certain place. The best “natural” reason to come together is to eat. Therefore, a community must come together to do just that, eat. The Bible calls these meetings “love feast” (1 Cor 11). These eating together must begin and end with prayer remembering the Lord. Others might call this “the Lord’s Supper.” But this is an insider term. Better just call it “dinner.” Between these two prayers any of the following can occur: “…each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all: Sing a hymn, teach a lesson, tell a story, lead a prayer, provide an insight.” (1 Cor 14:26 the Message) Let these things happen as naturally as possible. In other words, don’t follow a program. Just like in a typical gathering of friends, anyone can just stand up (or even while sitting) and say something. A presider may be appointed for order, but it’s not necessary.
One last thing, the community event or meeting must not be time-conscious. Anybody can come at whatever time they wish. I don’t mean to say that there is no time involved. We can invite people and say we will have dinner at 7 pm this coming Thursday. But even if people arrive late, it’s okay. They can still join us. There is no punishment for being late. Also, people can leave at anytime. It’s a gathering, not a job. In other words, it’s a time for relationships. It will begin as soon as people arrive. It will end as soon as the last person leaves. Of course, it will be good if members of the community can stay behind and clean the mess.
A real life Christian community must be as real as any social gathering. The only difference — and it’s the main difference — is the presence, power and purpose of Christ in their midst. In other words, a real life Christian community is formed and energized by the kingdom of God.