[Editor’s Note: This post continues the “Pastorally Speaking” series: posts written by pastors for pastors. Bobby Herrington is the Executive Pastor at Mercy Hill Church, a recent church plant in Greensboro, N.C., and Ph.D. student in theology at SEBTS.]
Three summers ago I had the opportunity to go backpacking across the snow covered peaks of British Columbia, Canada. One afternoon we approached the downhill slope of a massive glacier which was covered in snow. Walking down was dangerous because under the snow there could be deep unseen crevices that someone could fall into at any time. Therefore, when walking down the glacier we tied ourselves together with a rope, each person about 50 feet from the other. If the first person fell into a crevice each member of the team would roll onto their stomach and swing their ice axe into the glacier keeping the first person from falling very far. While going at it alone would have been extremely dangerous, hooking ourselves together made it rather safe.
This is a picture of how Christian community should work within the local church. As believers we should hook ourselves to one another through intentional discipleship relationships. We see this type of commitment both described and prescribed in Acts 2:42, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
The New Testament calls the local church to an impossible type of community; a community that breaks the barriers of race, socio-economics, and ethnicity. The Bible calls us to rejoice with our brothers and sisters when they rejoice, and suffer with them when they suffer. The Bible also calls us to share our material resources with one another.
Yet, because of sin, authentic Christian community seems more difficult than ever to establish. Churches split, marriages crumble, relationships sever, and church cook-outs and Wednesday night dinners don’t seem to be doing enough in creating the type of deep community the New Testament calls the local church to. In this post, I would like to both encourage and demonstrate that only the gospel can create the type of deep community within our churches that the New Testament commands.
No matter how hard we try as pastors, small group leaders, or Sunday school teachers, we cannot mechanically create community between members of our church. The reason for this is because our horizontal community with one another is grounded in our vertical community with God. The church is not a collection of people who share common interests but a people who have been called into fellowship with Jesus Christ and one another. As a result, division, disunity, and broken relationships within the church are not a community problem but a gospel problem.
Therefore, if we want to see authentic community in our churches, it will only come through the faithful preaching of the gospel. Only through the preaching of the gospel can people supernaturally begin a relationship with God that will enable them to have authentic relationships with one another within a local church.
So, while we ultimately cannot create community as pastors, what are some things we can do as pastors to help spur on and maintain this community that is only created by the gospel? Below are three things we are doing at the church where I serve (www.mercyhillgso.com) to spur our members on to biblical community.
1) Emphasize the importance of gathering – Hebrews 10:25 says, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.” Nothing can replace the importance of the weekly gathering for developing community within the church; the gospel is preached through sermon, pictured through the sacraments, and celebrated through fellowship.
Many people today want deep organic relationships but are not willing to put the time in to allow those relationships to develop. In the era of chat rooms and Facebook many people have communication, but few have biblical community. I use to often tell my small group that only structured friendships lead to organic relationships. It is only through hours of intentional time spent together with other Christians that these relationships move beyond surface level to the point that discipleship happens on a weekly basis.
2) Discipleship happens in community – This is a plumb-line at Mercy Hill Church (which we “borrowed” from our sending church, the Summit Church). The fact is many of us, pastors included, believe that the church needs us more than we need the church. The church is always asking us to volunteer, give money, use our gifts, etc. And while yes we should do all of those things, we cannot forget, and should not let our people forget, that every Christian needs the church to become a growing disciple of Jesus Christ.
Too many in our churches are attempting to be lone ranger Christians where the church is seen as good but not necessary. As Jesus had a small group of men he invested in, each of us needs a small group of people that speak the gospel into all areas of our lives on a weekly basis.
3) Call church members to a covenant commitment – One way to practically implement the previous points is to make joining a small group of 10-15 people part of a church covenant that all members of the church agree to. Make it a clear expectation that part of joining the church is a commitment to others in the church. It is my belief that only this type of intentional community will lead to the commitment to one another we see in Acts.
In just the books of Acts and 1 Corinthians Paul outlines at least 30 “one another” commitments that members of the body of Christ are to have to one another. This type of deep commitment to one another can never happen unless the members of our church are deeply involved in one another’s lives, and open about areas they need to grow. As pastors we must call our people to this type of commitment and live it out ourselves.