Sunday, 26 April 2015

Focus On Community

An important part of the minister's role is to enable the church to function as a community.  The church is not a collection of individuals.  As we say so often, ‘we are the Body of Christ’.  We live in a day when there is a strong emphasis on things being provided us for exactly as we want them.  If I go to Subway for a sandwich, I am almost overwhelmed at the choices I have to make in order to get my sandwich just as I want it – from what type of bread all the way through to what type of dressing.  A similar array of questions and possibilities is there if I go to get what I thought was a simple cup of coffee at Starbucks.  (There are other providers of sandwiches and of coffee!)  That is the kind of society in which we live.  We need to counter, or subvert, that by emphasising the building of community.  We often talk about the church as a community – but does it really always feel like that?  Interestingly, in my experience, that is a greater challenge in the larger church than in the smaller one.  For most of my time in Birmingham I was part of a team ministry in a large LEP, with well over 200 members, and, at the same time, a small back street chapel with probably less than a tenth of the membership. It was easy for the smaller church to be a community, but a real struggle for the larger one.

In his book "Calling and Character: Virtues of the Ordained Life", William Willimon says this: “The pastor is uniquely the “community person” by virtue of ordination, the one who is charged with cultivating those communal virtues that make the church the church.”  And he goes on: “This ecclesial stress upon community is inherently countercultural in a world of self-made men and women, rugged individualism, and cultured narcissism.  Pastors are those who tend to think, not for themselves, but with the church, seeking communal discernment, cultivating a dependence upon the wisdom of the saints in all that we do.  The church – body of Christ, People of God, Sheep of the Fold, and Bride of Christ – tends to be more important than either I or my occupational advancement.”

How can we enable our congregations to really be a community and model that for the world around us?  

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