How important is community really? Does it matter to our mission?
Tonight a hundred or more people gathered at Roanoke College for the Farewell Comedy Roast of Scott Yeager. Scott and I serve on Staff with IV together. He's a great guy and I really like him as a friend (that's what she said).
Scott made a difference in our lives. But is that all it takes, one person committed to God to make a difference in another person's life? Is that the best or only way? What about communal ministry?
One of George Hunter's big ideas in The Celtic Way of Evangelism has to do with this concept of community. Patrick and the Celts evangelized in teams. This wasn't just two dudes walking the street doing contact evangelism together. This was a community doing life together and intentionally engaging their neighbors.
I grew up thinking that evangelism was something you did by yourself. Someone stood up at a meeting and shared the gospel and that was evangelism. You talked through a tract with someone you cared about and that was evangelsim. Life together doesn't seem like evangelism.
For most Christian communities, our together-lives are designed in a way to escape the world. We only see each other once or twice a week, going into our secret building and using our coded language. We then go out, alone, into the world to love and serve and witness. Then we come back and report.
There was quite a bit of this in the early church. The disciples hid in locked rooms. They went out into the country. If you didn't believe what they believed, you couldn't belong to their community.
See the example of Peter. He gets up over and over again in the beginning of Acts and invites people to believe. And once they believe, he encourages them to get baptized and join the community. Believing precedes belonging. And, in a sense, it always will.
But there is another sense, one Hunter picks up on and one you also see modeled in the life of the early church, in which belonging comes before belief. In fact, some people end up believing because they already belong. Jesus' disciples would fit this model. They were his before they had any clue who he really was.
This is a complex idea and one that can easily lead us astray. In our rapidly postmodernizing world, one must be cautious saying anything that could give the notion that it's okay to minimize the importance of belief. Belief is vital. Belief is necessary, absolutely to our union with Christ.
But there is a sense in which people need an opportunity to experience the Christian community before they'll believe what we believe. They need to kick the tires, see if this is meaningful, drink our Kool-Aid before they "drink the Kool-Aid."
One of the things I'm most proud of and excited about about the ministry at W&L is that we welcome people who don't believe. We create environments for them to belong, even/especially if they don't believe. Our Small Groups and Large Group model this so well.
And in those environments, people are able to have meaningful, trust-filled conversations. And some who didn't believe, begin to believe.
How can Christian communities better create entry-spaces of belonging?
What would happen if we did?