Sunday, February 20, 2011

Creating Communities of Faithful Service

Diversity and unity seem so opposite and contradictory. Yet, they are both hallmarks of the Spirit endowed community of faith. Americans are by definition individualists, even “rugged individualists.” We honor those who “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” Square-jawed John Wayne represents the vision of the “can-do” spirit of American life. As Christians, many Americans have cultivated a similar understanding of the church. We honor those who represent the entrepreneurial spirit. We commend those who are willing to take risks, to try new things, to blaze new trails. There is value in this spirit of adventure, this willingness to go it alone if necessary. But the church is not a gathering of independent individualists, it is a community gathered and formed by the grace and love of God. It is a body, a system that is more than the sum of its parts. It is diverse but it is also one.

The Spirit’s gifts create within the church this unity in diversity. As we discover and begin to understand these gifts of the Spirit, we will begin to realize that we are dependent on each other. Therefore, we have a duty to work for the common good (1 Cor. 12:7), to build up the body (1 Cor. 14:12). As a body whose members depend on each other, when one suffers, all suffer, when one rejoices, all rejoice (Rom. 12:15; 1 Cor. 12:7, 25-26). Therefore, when a family suffers the death or illness of a loved one or loses a job, the community comes alongside and provides a meal, housekeeping assistance, or just an ear to listen.

This support for one another is the essence of body building, which comes naturally to the Spirit-gifted community. It comes without guilt inducing coercion or expectation of something in return. Such selfless acts come out of a sense of love for the body, a love that is rooted in the grace that is the foundation of the Spirit’s gifts. But, for this grace to become evident, our giftedness must be feed and nourished by our relationship with the living God, whom we know in the person of Jesus Christ. Therefore, our ability to hear and respond to this call to use gifts to build the body is fed spiritually as we attend to our prayers, our study, our worship, and our fellowship with one another.

The key to understanding the role the gifts play in the life of the church is to think in terms of the health of the human body. A healthy body is one that has harmony and balance, with every part working together as one. As with the human body, this balance within the body of Christ lasts only temporarily. It must be continually attended to or it falls out of harmony. Therefore, even as we must continually attend to proper diet and exercise to keep our own bodies in proper working order, the same is true of the body of Christ. Spiritually healthy churches are ones that emphasize worship, prayer, study, teaching opportunities, and fellowship. These are the foods and vitamins that nourish the body.

Proper diet, however, is not enough. Our bodies also need exercise or our muscles will atrophy. By using our gifts to teach, to build houses for the homeless, calling on the home bound, leading grief support groups, to lead worship, we build and strengthen the body of Christ. When we use our gifts we help create an environment where God’s message of reconciliation can take root and lives will be changed.

1 comment:

dcsloan said...

In a loving well-grounded faith community, it is amazing how much health can be restored in so many situations and in such a wide range of situations. Where many churches fall short is knowing when to call a "physician."

My experience is that many churches have a poor understanding of both trauma and systemic injustice. I have even witnessed a few churches who deny the existence of trauma and systemic injustice. It takes more than chicken soup and a kind listening ear to heal and restore someone who was subjected to sexual and physical abuse as a child, traumatized by war, or who has been reduced to living in a survival mode by poverty and cultural isolation and who cannot comprehend the value of an education or saving for "a rainy day." In such situations, the faith community can provide love, acceptance and encouragement, but it will take the appropriate trained professional to provide healing and restoration.