The various Christmas events that we’ve been involved in around the village has got me thinking about church and the community. Google on community church, and top of the list come Willowcreek and Saddleback. They’re known as churches with a high regard for community, and I wanted to know what we could learn from them.
I discovered that their idea of community is very different from our own. I don’t know if this is small church vs large church, or UK vs America, or traditional vs contemporary – maybe a combination of those things. I don’t want to be seen as bashing a particular way of ‘doing church’, so let me throw in MacArthur’s Grace Community Church, too.
These churches show a concept of community is very different from our own. Let me give you this quote from Grace:
Community is likewise significant. It suggests both genuine fellowship within our church family and an open door to those around us. As members of one body, we seek to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). As a light in our community, we’re a place of peace for those in chaos, a place of forgiveness for the guilty, and a place of hope for the hopeless.
In fairness to Grace, at least they’re clear what they mean. There’s not such a definitive statement on either Willowcreek or Saddleback. But all three churches emphasise the fact that their church is a community.
Clearly this is biblical (Acts 2:42, of course), and perhaps something that we have missed. The church needs to be all those things MacArthur writes about. But sadly church as a community was not something that was central to the reformation, and therefore not central to the way reformed churches often look at what a church should be.
The reasons for lack are too complex to go into here, but much of it stems from the confusion of church and state at the time of the reformation. The church wasn’t a separate community from the community around – church and state went together. Church wasn’t a community, it was the community.
But what is missing from these three large church seems to be the very thing that was so prominent in the reformation. The church is part of a community. Look at the three websites, and you’ll see exactly what I mean. Each website says, in essence, “come and be part of our community”.
That’s reaching out, but it’s not what the Bible commands. The Bible doesn’t want us to reach out, it wants us to go out. To go out, and be part of the community around us. The mountain must go to Mohammed.
I’ve written a little about what this looks like in an article called Love thy neighbour. It’s a real, living example of a young man who has become part of the community he is trying to reach. To me, it seems much more like New Testament Christianity that what so often goes on in our churches.