Thursday, August 6, 2020

Where Should We Eat?

There is a real danger - in fact, there are many real dangers - in not pursuing real community within the church. Yesterday, we introduced some of these ideas by talking about the real-life case of a family moving to a new place and beginning a new fellowship in their own home without even considering any of the multitude of existing fellowships in the area. They are a family who is moving in with no intention of joining in. 

The truth is that in communities all around the world, the local church is already in motion. Often, many local churches are already in motion. They have already identified the hearts of their fellowships and the needs of their communities and done what they can to start reaching out in a way that is meaningful. When you refuse to look at the communities that exist, you essentially force yourself to reinvent the wheel again. You know what it is that you want, but you don't do the hard work of identifying where there's already a fellowship with the same heart. So it's incumbent upon you to build it all over again when, in fact, it's probably been thriving in that place for quite awhile already. 

This is a lot of work, unnecessary work, and the sad reality is that most who set out to start their own fellowships will never move beyond what they wanted to get out of them in the first place. They won't take the steps out into their community because it's simply too hard to identify the needs, to figure out the logistics, to make the plans, to take the actions. It's too easy to worry more about feeding your own soul than serving your neighbors, and it's easy to seclude yourself from the real world that you live in. It's easy to miss all the needs around you. 

That's where the local, established church has the advantage. Because the needs of this community have already been knocking on their doors for decades. The people have been letting them know what they need. The poor, the naked, the hungry, the sick, the scared, the homeless, the defeated, the suicidal have always sought out the church for help. They aren't likely to come knocking on the door of "Bob's Small Home Fellowship," but they line up outside the Methodist church on the corner, waiting for the pastor to arrive. You don't have to go looking for need; it's right there in front of you. 

But let's say that you and your little fellowship do find the need in your community and you set out to meet it. How do you do that without stepping on the toes of your brothers and sisters who have already been at it for generations? 

This is a legitimate concern. It's easy to say, "Who cares who's doing it, as long as God's work is getting done?" And there's a certain truth to that. But the bigger truth is that when you compete with your brothers and sisters, you encourage the world to start judging Christians instead of accepting the grace of God. 

Our community churches have teamed up together to provide meals for the hungry. In our county, there is somewhere to get a free meal every night of the week, plus food assistance in between at many places. Now, it could have been that each of these churches decided to feed the hungry and set up their own program without ever talking to one another. In that case, you might have four or five meal options on Tuesday and none on Thursday or Saturday. 

With that kind of system, the hungry have a choice to make. Which meal do we eat? Do we eat the one with the 5-star chef? Or the one with the mac n cheese the kids like so much? Do we go to the one with tablecloths all decked out like a top-notch restaurant or the one with card tables set up in the hallways to accommodate the need? All of a sudden, it's not about being thankful for the people of God who graciously provide food to the hungry - it's a competition. It's about Grace Church providing a better option than Mercy Road Fellowship so that they can justify their costs and build their reputation and so on and so forth, and the hungry? The hungry are trying to figure out which group of believers they like more...instead of coming to know the God that drives them all.

And it leaves the need unmet unnecessarily. When churches work together, the hungry can eat every night. But when they do their own thing and step on each other's toes, maybe the hungry can only eat two or three nights a week.

So to be a responsible member of your community, you're going to run up against the communities you refused to even consider at some point. You're going to discover the ongoing work you didn't even bother to investigate. You're going to meet brothers and sisters with the same heart as you, if you're responsible about coordinating the work together to make sure the glory of God is primary and the needs are truly met. And you might just be surprised to find what you were looking for all along.

That's why it's important to not just go out and do your own thing. First, it's a lot of work that you don't have to be doing. If you team up with an established fellowship, you can trust that they already know the needs of their community and are already mobilizing in that direction. You don't have to reinvent the wheel. (You're still free, of course, to start a new program or to help draw attention to a need they haven't picked up as a cause, but the groundwork is all there.) Second, you don't end up competing against your brothers and sisters and drawing away from the glory of God that you all intended to show in the first place. Third, you make sure the need is being met in a meaningful way. And finally, you might find that the fellowship you were looking for was there all along. You just missed it because you didn't even look. 

But wait...there's more. Come back tomorrow to discover how your little fellowship not only competes with established fellowships for your community's affections, but cheats those churches out of something very precious and valuable. 

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