The Encouraging Community

August 15, 2017

I want to tell you the story of a parent and a child. The parent was a committed parent who loved his child. The child was a kind-hearted, good child. One morning said parent awoke at his normal time and made preparations for the day. This included awakening the child, reminding him of his morning duties, preparing his breakfast and a sack lunch for the day.

The child, who is a teenager, remained asleep after the first, second, and third exhortations to wake up. When the child finally did awake, his breakfast was uneaten and the parent, whose patience was wearing thin, lost his cool.

“What have you been doing?!?! Sit down and eat your breakfast! We have to leave in 10 minutes!”

The child’s response?
“It’s not my fault. You didn’t tell me to come to the table!”

Now, in this story, at whose feet would you place the blame/responsibility for this mishap? Well, I believe it falls at the feet of the parent (who, of course, is me). The parent is doing too much for the child. The child is not learning the responsibilities he needs to learn. Simply put, he is getting spoiled.

Now with this in mind, I want to ask you to imagine the community of the church and the responsibilities we should ask for and expect of its members. Should there be any? If so, what should we ask/expect of each other?

Transformation into Christlikeness is the aim and responsibility of the church. We believe that this does not happen in a vacuum. There are no “Lone Ranger” Christians. We are called to be in relationship with one another. Romans 12:5 says, “so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”

The church is to be the “encouraging community” to this end. It is a primary, essential function of the church. Perhaps THE essential function.

But beware! Forces are aligned to keep us from this development! James Bryan Smith believes that our consumer culture is one of them. The culture does not help foster this encouraging Christian community that calls one another to maturity and responsibility. He writes,

“We live in a consumer culture. Each day we are treated as a customer, and this leads us to believe we are entitled to have all of our needs met. We have become spoiled. The modern ethos of narcissism is pervasive in our culture and prevalent in our churches. The phenomenon of ‘church shopping’ reveals our comfort with the consumer narrative. It is also revealed when we are treated as something other than consumers.
Several years ago I was speaking with a group of pastors about this false narrative, and one of them had a story that illustrates this. ‘A years ago I felt called by God to encourage our people to read the Bible more,’ he said. ‘I challenged them, from the pulpit, to read the Bible for an hour a week. Not all at once, but perhaps for ten to twenty minutes on different occasions. After offering this challenge on several Sundays, a woman who had been in the church for several years came up to me and said, ‘Pastor, I want you to know that I am leaving the church.’ I asked why, and she said, ‘Because when I joined this church, reading the Bible was not in the contract.’” (Smith. The Good and Beautiful Community, p. 128)

It should be obvious that this is unacceptable. The encouraging community that we are called to be is filled with an eternal purpose—to become Christlike people who are constantly growing in our life with God and each other. The encouraging community that we are to be exists to shape and guide our souls. It will provide encouragement and accountability, and has the right to expect certain behaviors from each other.

This fall we will be moving into a new era in the life of our church congregation. We will be incorporating small groups into the life of our congregation. These will meet weekly. Each member is expected to join a small group. The purpose of these groups will be encouragement, accountability, prayer, spiritual gift identification and engagement, fellowship and fun.

Let’s fulfill our purpose, church, and become mature, responsible, holy Christians.

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