Becoming a compelling community (II)
continued from the last postFriday 26 February 2016 by Ad Taylor-Weekes
This is the second post in a 2-part series reflecting on a book I have read recently called, "The Compelling Community," written by Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop. Last time we saw a vision for community which stressed the importance of being a gospel community that has both breadth and depth.
2. Fostering community
The second part of the book looks at how to cultivate this kind of community. And he talks about faithful preaching, corporate prayer and building a culture of spiritually intentional relationships.
Preaching needs to be equipping. We preach in order to create a church of mini-preachers who will be equipped and willing to preach to one another (without any of the negative connotations that come with that word in our culture!) Praying together needs to be a key component in our meetings and outside. Spiritually intentional relationships are those where it is normal for us to talk deeply about our lives with one another, where we disciple one another and where we show each other hospitality. Building off of an earlier chapter Dunlop says that we need to have lives that see the local church, and our church community in particular, as the centre of our lives and not a peripheral concern. There are lots of competing forces he suggests: career, location, recreation and family can all conspire to minimise the importance of the local church.
An Eden Project?
Of course this is where church membership comes into its own. Relationships thrive where there is commitment. Commitment and relationship are two sides of the same coin. Dunlop offers this helpful illustration: “Near my house is the United States Botanical Garden – a glass-covered sanctuary built in 1933 for warm-weather plants. One of my favourite winter activities is to take the short walk with my family to the garden and feel the damp city chill give way to the war, rain-forest air of the main atrium. Think of church membership as that glass covering, standing against the cold world outside to establish the boundary conditions for a lush ecosystem of relationships in your church. Ultimately, if you want to create a culture of deep relationships in your church, you need a culture of commitment.” In our context think Eden Project!
Getting rid of barriers to community
There’s a great practical chapter on how churches can be structured against generating deep and broad community that displays the gospel. Church structures, calendar, music, meetings and ministries can all be hindrances to genuine community even though they may have been put in place to generate it. The upshot is that we should be wary of leaning on any one ministry to cultivate community. Fostering community should, rather, be an exercise in shaping church culture.
3. Protecting Community
Part 3 of the book deals with issues that can threaten community such as discontentment and sin and explains the importance of handling these things well through Biblical example (Acts 6 in the case of discontentment) and church discipline (in the case of sin)
4. Community at Work
Part 4 of the book is called “Community at work” and takes the topics of evangelism and church planting, both which were very stimulating. Viewing evangelism as a corporate responsibility rather than merely “personal” is very helpful.
“Doing evangelism on my own is like digging a pit using a toy shovel, then leaning on a backhoe to rest. What magnificent power sits idle while I work! Why would you ever share the gospel with a friend without trying to expose her to the supernatural community of the local church?”
Even if you don’t know what a backhoe is (I don’t!) it’s a point well made. What implications does this have for the way we view the work of the University CU, for example? As important and good as things like “events week” are (and they are great and we support them enthusiastically at Emmanuel), what better event to bring them to than the local gathering of one’s church community? And it’s an event that happens every week! And, in smaller contexts, every day of the week! And what about our friends in the office, or our neighbours – how can we make our worlds collide? He has some suggestions: talk about life in a church; mix our circles of hospitality; invite others to join you in evangelism; aspire to be a neighbourhood church.
“We want a church where a passion for the lost is core to its personality. There may not be banners on the website…but when you open up a church and poke around inside, you discover a whole world of evangelistic fervour. People share the gospel with friends, neighbours and relatives. And, whenever possible they’re letting the congregation be both context and apologetic for evangelism. In a church like this, there may not be as much sheen on the surface, but the culture is deep. That’s our goal”
The final chapter is about church planting. When you’ve achieve this kind of community, what better thing to do than to transplant it somewhere else. (What he calls the yoghurt model of church planting – read the book for more detail!) It’s all very well having church planting in your DNA, says, Dunlop, but is the rest of the DNA worth planting elsewhere? Having a desire to plant is not enough. Having something worth planting is the first goal right? And when you’ve got it, plant it.
All in all I felt it was a very thought provoking (and compelling!) read. It certainly describes the kind of community we in Emmanuel aspire to. I found the vision of this kind of community compelling and hope that we in Emmanuel can pray together and strive to become even more like this. Where we run deep and wide, displaying the power of the gospel, working together for the gospel, for the glory of God.