Monday, June 23, 2014

Making a Community Shine

Cape Hatteras lighthouse by haglundc, on Flickr

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  haglundc 

Have you ever wondered what makes a community worth it? Worth participating in, worth following, worth pouring our hearts and souls into? I know I have and do.

Moving forward comes with some natural consequences, such as leaving behind a community that you have been deeply invested in. For my wife and I, that has meant leaving a community she grew up in and I cared deeply about for the past five years. It is a bitter sweet thing, knowing that it is the right thing to do yet stepping into the great unknown. Much like taking a dose of unpalatable medicine that will cure your infection, it can be a tough pill to swallow.

Out of every crashing thunderstorm comes beautiful rain that brings new life. There is turmoil in the throes of the storm, but an awakening in the following calm.

One of the privileges we have revelled in over the past two months is the option to attend different churches and observe and partake in their styles of worship. It may sound strange, but the ability to simply participate in worship as a congregant is a privilege too often denied to those in church leadership. Instead, we as members of the community expect our leaders to be there week after week preparing the worship for us to consume, without often a thought of their own personal renewal.

A dirty little secret that most pastor's will not tell you is that they themselves will not attend church in the few weeks they have 'off' each year. Their calling and vocation has made communal worship a job, and the weeks spent away are a great chance for individual renewal or time spent with family. What this leaves us with are communities that are completely unaware of their surroundings or how the larger story is developing around them. It can leave them stagnant.

Passionate people never stop pursuing their passions. The Church has always been one of mine, and so observing and participating in a different set of churches has been refreshing and a great opportunity of growth. There are things about communities that reflect who I am, and are naturally attractive. There are others that are entirely foreign -- some for good, and others that push me away. As I have reflected on the communities we have briefly visited, there are a few things that I believe every community should have in their own flavours.

Hospitality -- beyond the doors

 Nearly every church has greeters and ushers, which means by definition that they are not what makes a community hospitable. An important part for sure, but the standard handshake, hand off of the bulletin and 'How are you?' does not a hospitable place make.

It is those communities where people are paying attention that stand out. Those who notice those who are new, engage in meaningful conversation and follow up that make a place hospitable.

Does this community care about me?

Joy in worship

We worship a living, loving, risen Lord... amen? Then why do our services feel like it was a chore to get out of bed?

I understand fully that we all have those weeks. The ones where nothing is going right, the kids were a wreck, the car would not start, and I am here out of obedience more than passion. We all get our Mulligans, do overs and free passes when it comes to weeks like that.

However, is it too much for the worship leader to convey some passion in the songs they sing? For some meaning to be conveyed behind the melodies and harmonies? Having played music and done a smattering of choral singing, there is always an intangible in muisc -- those who play. Some are able to translate beautiful ballads that convey otherworldly meanings through an instrument, others are lucky to be in tune.

In the same way, does this community reflect the joy of the Lord, or are they going through the motions?

Purpose in Learning

This one is for the preachers. Can we do everyone a favour and put an extra 5-10 hours of work into our sermons? I understand that Mrs. Jones was sick this week, and that people were calling, and there was a leak in the roof at the church. We are a busy people. Please, PLEASE learn to say no to the things that are not your duty, especially on the weeks when your duty IS to bring the Word of the Lord.

The duty of a preacher is to make the text come alive, relevant to where this community is and understandable for all aged. It also is not as easy as it sounds. It takes a huge amount of work, prayer and effort to jump onto that bareback horse and break it until it is tame. I have huge respect for those that have the gifting and passion to pour into their people's lives week after week.

I learn a lot about a community when the preacher opens (sometimes) the Word and begins to unpack the passage or story for that week. Some do it with a great amount of sensitivity and brevity, while others serve rancid meat to a vegetarian. I am there to learn, to soak in the wisdom that God has given you through hours of study. Please give me something worth taking notes on, along with something that I can put into action that day. Too many sermons are a third to double in length what their content defines, filled with inconsequential filler that only detracts from the true meaning.

Do these people love God's Word? Is there meat in the teaching, or milk?

Challenge in Living

Is this a community that is going to draw me closer to God, or lull me into a safe sense of security? The latter is the easier road, but the former is what I really need. This is more of a holistic look at community, and one that I do not draw from a singular morning or visit. There are, however some good litmus tests that tell us more about the deeper community such as if they are actually involved in their local community or in missions.

This is one of the hardest things to judge, because it involves so much of the other three. A hospitable community tells us about their priorities in including outsiders and attitudes on love. Their joy in worship can be a window into their passion and understand for God. The hunger for good teaching speaks to their priorities.

Every community is different, and every community has its purpose. There are many communities in part because of the need for that diversity. The question is not what will I get out of a community, but which community can I contribute most to? Where will God challenge and use me? How is God using these people as a light in a dark and foreign land?

Be a part of the community God has you in. Shine with it.

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