Tag Archives: Christian community

Individual and Community?

9780310277675_1Last week I reviewed Ted Kluck and Ronnie Martin’s newest book, The Bridezilla of Christ: What to do When God’s People Hurt God’s People. If you read that review, you know that I was not impressed by the book. But what if you are looking for a book on church community, is there a better one?

There is a book I’m currently reading that I think answers that question. The book is Scot McKnight’s A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together (Zondervan, 2014).

McKnight’s book is not focused on conflict, it is focused on discovering how all kinds of different people can be in a community where each person is complemented while complementing the whole community.

He uses the image of making a salad. He says there is the America Way, where everything is thrown into a bowls and smothered with salad dressing. The problem is that everything ends up tasting like salad dressing. He says the right way is to assemble the salad ingredients and, instead of salad dressing, add just a little bit of good olive oil. The olive oil “somehow brings the taste of each item to its fullest” (14). The salad is good because each individual piece is brought it its full potential.

That should be the goal our churches. The whole is strong when each individual is strong and able to contribute to their highest potential. Our goal shouldn’t be to gather people together and smother them in “salad dressing” so that each person’s individuality and unique background, skills and calling are forced to be a single flavor.

So how do we do that? How do we allow each person to fulfill their highest potential while retaining the community? McKnight is going to give us some suggestions that we’ll look at next week.


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Praying Prayers Together: Why I Don’t Sing at Church

It’s been over two years since I’ve sang at church.

It’s not because my church plays one kind of music while I prefer another. It’s not because I’m angry at God. It’s not because I’m deathly afraid to sing in public. I just don’t sing at church.

But isn’t corporate worship part of going to church? Isn’t singing a huge part of that corporate worship- at least within the modern day church?

Yes, I guess you could argue those points and on one level I would have to agree with you. My response, however, is why? Why do we sing?

Bonhoeffer said that church singing is a way for a group of people to pray the same prayer. It’s a way for people of different ages, genders, social classes, education and spiritual maturity to all say the same thing to God at the same time.

I love the picture that Bonhoeffer creates. It’s the same picture we see in Revelation when people from every nation are gathered around the throne of God and sing “worthy is the Lamb that was slain.” If that were explained in church then I might be able to sing. Instead of standing to sing because standing to sing is what we do at church, the church was lead- shepherded, pastored- to the throne of God to pray the same prayer to God that would completely change how we sing church music.

Two other things also hinder our churches from realizing Bonhoeffer’s vision.

1. We must have prayers worth praying. In our conversation this means that we must have songs worth singing. Have you ever really paid attention to the words to some of the songs we sing at church? There are many songs that have well developed theology but there are many songs that do not, they just string a line of adjectives together and apply them to God. It brings me to the question, what does it mean to praise or worship God? Is worship merely describing God- God is holy, God is loving, God is full of grace? Is worship thanking God for what God has done? I’m not an expert on worship and I honestly haven’t done much research on the topic but when I read the Psalms or the early hymns of the church I see more than just assigning adjectives to God or thanking God for what God has done. Though I see those things, beyond them I see a change in the relationship between God, who is being praised and worshiped, and the one offering that praise and worship. In the Psalms we see the psalmist moved to steadfastness and action or we see evil crumble before God. When Paul writes or quotes an early Christian hymn, it ends with every knee bowing and tongue confessing that Jesus is Lord. I may be wrong and I may change my mind, but I don’t see many of our church songs causing a change in the relationship between God and the worshiper.

2. We must have community that is worth belonging to. If singing is praying prayers together, then it reasons that we need to know each other. In Romans, Paul tells us to rejoice with those rejoice and weep with those who weep; if we don’t know who is rejoicing and who is weeping, how can we rejoice and weep with them? If I don’t know what is going on in the lives of people around me, how can I pray prayers of thanksgiving with them, or prayers of comfort, or prayers of distress, or prayers of hope? What happens is that I sing or pray my little song in the context of my world in my rejoicing and my weeping and you sing your little song in the context of your little world in your rejoicing or your weeping and we are singing two individual songs instead of singing one song together. It’s only though really knowing those around us that we can truly sing and pray together.

As I said earlier, I really love Bonhoeffer’s picture of what church singing is suppose to be. Above that, I think it’s the picture we see in the Bible and in the example of the early Christian church. God hears enough of us singing our individual prayers- everyone in the world can do that- what we need more of is singing prayers as one body and that means having prayers worth praying and knowing what prayers to pray by being in true community with each other.

 

The Story Behind the Story: Confession and Community

Confession stands as one of basic Christian disciplines that has been largely forgotten in our modern Christianity. I have written about this previously in Benchmarks, “Confession is the speaking side of solitude. In solitude one is still and listens; in confession one is honest and speaks. [Richard] Foster speaks of confession as the acknowledgement that Christian community is not a community of saints but rather a community of sinners. When we are honest with who we are in confession, we are truly set free and transformed by God’s mercy and forgiveness.”

Modern-day Christianity talks a lot about community and it is one of the hot buzzwords that’s spoken and written about. As Christians we long for genuine community and we hold out community as an attractive element of Christianity to a world that is moving increasingly superficial. We talk a lot about community but we don’t talk at all about confession.


Community cannot happen outside of confession.


 The irony is, however, that community cannot happen outside of confession. Without confession, as Foster writes, the Christian community becomes a community of “saints” where pride and jealousy can breed comparison, envy and conflict. It can breed a community that becomes more focused on it’s own works rather than the work of Jesus. A community of confession, a community of sinners, understands that we are a community of fallen people, who continually fall short of God and must rely on the grace, mercy, forgiveness and complete work of Jesus. Simply put a community of confession lifts up Jesus while community of “saints” can quickly fall into the trap of lifting up it’s own accomplishments.


Confession cannot happen outside of community.


 Community cannot happen outside of confession and the opposite is true as well, confession cannot happen outside of community. If confession is speaking then one has to speak and another has to listen. Our confessions have to come within community- the community of the church, the community of family, the community of marriage, the community of friendship. That is the hardest aspect of confession. To be a confessing community means that each of us has to be honest about ourselves and honest to each other. Many times it’s easier to be honest with God than it is to be honest with each other. After all God already knows us and knows our actions, words and attitudes but we can cover up our actions, explain our words and hide our attitudes but those things destroy community.

I think that is what James talks about in James 5:13-18. In the passage, James gives three examples of things that destroy community: suffering, celebration (success), and sickness. We can probably see how suffering and sickness could destroy community but what about celebration, happiness or success? Typically, nothing makes us rely less on God than prosperity. And nothing makes us more aware of our heart’s desires than when we have a little extra money at the end of the month. To these destructive elements, James says that we need to call in the community, pray and confess. There it is again, confession linked to community and community linked to confession.


 

Confession is community in action.


The idea of confession is something that God has been working in me for a few months now and last Sunday I finally had the courage to go to my wife and confess some attitudes that I’ve had and that some of the things I did amidst the hurt, anger and frustration of the church job mess where wrong and I needed to confess and ask forgiveness. And you know what? It was hard. And it was freeing. It was community in action.

If true community takes confession and confession takes a community, how do we begin? It might be awkward to grab the first person you see at church and start confessing to them. But that just might be the way to start. Just image if the church was made up of people who confessed to each other the ways they are suffering, the ways they are celebrating, the ways they are sick. Imagine if the church was made up of people who prayed, I mean really prayed, for each other in the same power in which Elijah prayed? Imagine a church made up of people who confessed their brokenness and were healed. Never mind a church, imagine a marriage or a family like that! That is a community that would stand out to people far from God. And all it takes is the courage to say, “Hey, I need to tell you something…”

 

© Ryan Vanderland 2014