Four Prescriptions for Community
How will Satan attack your church? Does he have a primary strategy, one that seldom fails?
He’ll go after your church’s community. He’ll do everything he can to infect it, make it sick, and hopefully, have it die.
In the gospel of John we have the poignant final words and prayers of Jesus to His disciples before the cross. Between John 13 and John 17, it can only be said that Jesus pours out His heart. It is considered by many to be among the most moving sections of the New Testament. What occupied Jesus the moments before His atoning death for the sins of the world? Not surprisingly, His concern that the world would recognize His gift. And how would that happen? Christ’s torrent of prayer and pleading begins and ends with a passionate call for unity among those who claim His name. The observable love between those who called themselves His followers was everything. Why? Jesus said it would be this unity, and this unity alone, which would arrest the world’s attention and confirm that He was from the Father.
As has often been pointed out, when the Bible talks about such loving unity, it doesn’t mean uniformity, which is everyone looking and thinking alike. And the biblical idea is certainly not to be confused with unanimity, which is complete agreement about every petty issue across the board (though within churches there should be unity of purpose and an agreement on the major issues related to doctrine and mission). By unity, the Bible means first and foremost a oneness of heart - a relational unity. Being kind to one another, gracious to one another, forgiving of one another – not assuming the worst, shooting the wounded, or being quick to be suspicious. Biblical unity is about working through conflicts, avoiding slander and gossip, and being generous in spirit.
Unfortunately, many churches do not know how to treat community illnesses. So let’s get practical about some remedies:
Community Allergies: This is when two or more people in the community experience conflict, a personality clash, strong wills locking, or simply offend one another in the normal course of interaction. This calls for an immediate application of a strong antihistamine, specifically the one found in Matthew 18:15: “If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him – work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend.” (Msg)
Community Growth Aches and Pains: This is when your church goes through a growth spurt, starts a new service or adds a new campus, or even opens up a new entrance – anything that separates people from each other in ways they were not separate before. There is an inevitable sense of community “loss” because people don’t see everyone they used to see the way they did before. This is unavoidable if a church is going to be healthy, but it still needs an aspirin in the form of Acts 2:47 to keep it from becoming a splitting migraine (just to remind folks that a Spirit-filled church is one that is growing): “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (NIV)
Community Bumps and Bruises: This is when your church faces procedural or logistical hiccups that cause hurt feelings. It doesn’t take much - long lines, poor administration, unreturned phone calls, insufficient communication, or a youth retreat from hell. This calls for a quick Acts 6 X-Ray and physical therapy: “...as the believersrapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers… They said…’brothers, select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will give them this responsibility. Everyone liked this idea,… So God’s message continued to spread. (NLT)
Community Infections: This is when a person (or persons) exudes a spirit that invades your church and creates division. They engage in hallway or parking lot conversations that spread dissent. They undermine the leadership. They cast suspicion and doubt. This is a serious ailment, even cancerous, and must be met with a round of radiation found in Titus 3:10: “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him.” (NIV)
Four prescriptions for community health.
And yes, you can trust me. I’m a doctor.
James Emery White
James Emery White, Christ Among the Dragons (InterVarsity Press).