We Need Each Other

It has become increasingly common for me to meet someone who professes to follow Christ, but who has no interest in being a part of a local Christian community (i.e. a church). Perhaps even more common are the number who profess Christ AND profess interest in a local church, but rarely attend on Sunday morning.

The reasons for this, no doubt, are many and varied.  And I suspect that the cool spiritual temperature of the local church has contributed much to these patterns. The local church, rather than presenting as an irresistible community, has often presented as a hugely resistible community, focused on secondary things.

As a pastor, I note the constant temptation to focus on secondary matters, and how easily a group of people can become resistible. These two things go together. Focusing on things not prioritized by Christ causes a group to become more resistible.

Thankfully, the converse is also true. Prioritizing what Christ prioritized causes a group to become increasingly irresistible.

To this end, I’m convinced that the first and best thing we can do is make a deeply personal CONNECTION to God through Jesus Christ. Without this, irresistibility will always elude us.

Having connected to God, the next step should come naturally to us: CONNECT to one another.

The New Testament employs the metaphor ‘the body’ to describe the Church. Our connection to Christ (‘the Head’) may be intensely personal, but our connection is not an independent one. Our connection to Jesus, as a ‘body part’, is a connection shared by other parts. The apostle Paul takes up this metaphor in 1Corinthians 12 to help correct some of the division which existed within the Church at Corinth. The point of the passage which stands out for me is this: We need each other. We have been designed by God to connect with Him as a group, and not merely as individuals.

Moreover, we have be equipped to do God’s will and to advance His kingdom in this world as a group, and not merely as individuals.  I say this, in part, in defense of the local church. If we are lacking in some way, if our impact in the community has been modest, if our environment has been, in some senses, resistible it is because we are missing ‘parts’ of our body.  

What I would describe as, ‘Lone Ranger Christianity’, is not edifying for the local gathering of Jesus followers, nor is it helpful for the follower who is attempting to grow in isolation from the rest of the body.

We are meant to be together. We need each other.  

In spite of all the challenges facing the contemporary Church—challenges without, and challenges within—I am extremely hopeful about the future of the Christian Church. Individual congregations may suffer decline, and even close their doors, but the worldwide Church continues to grow (see Matthew 16:18). The reason for this is simple:

Jesus is for the Church.  

And as much as I love the church, I’ll never love the church as much as Jesus does. He died for the Church (Acts 20:28)…which begs the question, ‘What are we willing to give in order to promote the growth of the Christian Church?’

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On February 8, I delivered a message at St. Giles Kingsway and The Well entitled, ‘Connect to One Another’. This is the 2nd message within the series, ‘What Are We Aiming At?’. You can listen to the message here.

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Connect.

Simple.

Keep it simple.

As I attempt to focus the attention of those I serve at St. Giles Kingsway and The Well, one of my chief strategies is to keep things simple. And so as I roll out a vision to guide our actions and expectations, I’m trying not to over-think what we ought to be doing. Accordingly, I’ve reduced the plan to 3 words:

CONNECT :: GROW :: IMPACT

CONNECT with God, and with one another.

GROW in your relationship with God, and in your relationship with one another.

IMPACT your community through the strength of your relationships.

The order of these targets is important. If we use a flower as a metaphor, we can see this clearly. For a flower to GROW, its roots must first be CONNECTED to life-promoting nutrients. If you’ve ever planted a flower garden you know that the flowers aren’t very impressive at first. The roots need to CONNECT, the flower needs to GROW and multiply before the full IMPACT and beauty of the garden can be appreciated.

I think the same can be said of the Christian Church. We’re so eager to make an IMPACT. We long to make a difference. But if we haven’t effectively CONNECTED with God, our IMPACT will be largely limited. To maximize our IMPACT, we need to first focus on meaningfully CONNECTING with Jesus Christ.

These principles of CONNECT, GROW, IMPACT are readily discernible as we track the progress of the apostles and the early Church in the Book of Acts. In particular, I am fascinated with how Paul sought to get the religious leaders in Athens CONNECTED to God. Everything must start here.  CONNECTING with Christ is paramount. If we don’t excel at this, we won’t excel at doing anything that God requires. As I type that, I’m struck be the edge to that statement. It sounds so absolute, so cut and dried. And yet, this is exactly what Jesus has told us: “You cannot bear fruit unless you remain in Me…apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:4, 5).

As we think about how to be a follower of Christ in the 21st Century, as we think about how to be the church in this world, let’s not get ahead of God. And let’s not over-think this. Let’s begin with the very simple, but all-important, aim of CONNECTING meaningfully with Jesus Christ.

You can listen to my message on this subject below.  

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When We Forget To Remember

I was reading again the passage in Luke where The Last Supper is described (Luke 22:7-38) and was struck by how dreadful the response was from Jesus’ disciples.

Having reminded His disciples of His impending suffering, Jesus held out to His friends the expectation of the coming of the kingdom of God (Luke 22:16). And then Jesus yoked these two realities with the elements set before them on the table. The bread, broken and distributed, “This is My body…do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). With a cup of wine Jesus announces the new covenant, sealed in His blood, “poured out for you” (Luke 22:20).

The disciples are urged to remember this. They are urged to remember Jesus. They are urged to remember that the advancement of the kingdom of God is inextricably linked to Jesus’ death.

It strikes me, in a meal centred upon remembering, how quickly we forget. The disciples were easily distracted from the main thing. During the meal Jesus predicted that he would be betrayed by one of them and, evidently, that’s what captured their attention the most (Luke 22:23). This was followed by a dispute about which of them “would be the greatest” in the kingdom of heaven (Luke 22:24). Not long after that, Jesus was arrested and Mark explains that “everyone deserted Him and fled” (Mark 14:50).

The disciples were urged to remember…but how quickly they forgot.

I wish it were the case that this was exceptional. I wish it were the case that the ability to so quickly forget the primary things of God was a problem for the apostles only. But of course, this is our struggle too, isn’t it?

Celebrating the Lord’s Supper does not guarantee that I will remain focused on the kingdom of God, but I nonetheless need it. It does help me to remember. The Lord’s Supper is a profound reminder of the sacrifice of Jesus. At the Table I am reminded that I am a great sinner, but I serve a great Saviour. I am reminded at the Table of my connection to Jesus and my role in the advancement of His kingdom.  At the Table, I remember that my purpose and direction in life is bound up in Him. At the Table, I receive a fresh portion of His strength and grace.

We are urged to remember.

Remembering seems so much easier when we are at the Table, and forgetting seems all too common when we return to our daily routine.

What can be done? What remedy is there for we who forget to remember?

I believe the remedy is, in part, the people of God.

If we spend abundant time with people who are committed to Jesus; if we spend much time with people who are committed to the priority of the kingdom of God, we will not easily forget that which we are called to remember.

Fellow Christians, let us resolve then to encourage one another to remember. Let us encourage one another to remember who we are, and whose we are. And may the grace we experience at the Table extend to every part of our lives.