In the beginning – not a bad start for a New Year’s message, right? In the beginning, God said that it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone (Genesis 2:18); so he created Eve. While many preachers and Bible teachers will point to that as a foundation of marriage, and rightly so, it probably points to a greater principle, that it is God’s will for people to live in community.
It should also reveal why God established the church. While God sent Jesus to reconcile all of humanity to himself through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God established the church to reveal, to experience, and to share that Good News. In order to show people what community with God looks like, God established the church, a community that grows in relationship to God and to its members.
So that’s my theme for 2019: “Grow in Community.” That’s my primary focus and concern for us this coming year, to help us grow as a community; so my sermons, articles, and lessons for the year will be focused on that goal.
The Bible makes it very clear that God’s kingdom is a community. We were created to be in community with each other and with God; that’s the point of the creation account in Genesis. We were created to be live together in such a way that we would help each other grow with God and as a community; that was the point of the nation of Israel and God’s law for them. We were created to nurture each other physically, emotionally, and spiritually; that’s the blessing of being the church, that we would know “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (Ephesians 1:18).
However, mankind, from the garden to today, has opted for selfish exclusion from God and from others, except when it’s convenient or beneficial. That sinful point of view is the root of dysfunctional families, neighborhoods, and nations. It’s also the root of many of the problems we find in the church today, from selfish squabbles over things like paint colors, donuts, or temperature to hostile breakups over music style and volume, finances, and staff issues (including preaching/teaching style, dress, and scandal).
This year marks the 25th anniversary of this congregation in this building, and 2021 will be the 60th anniversary of the incorporation of this body as a church in Athens (I’m fairly certain that it met for some time before incorporation, but I don’t know for how long). Believe it or not, 2018 was my fifth year serving with this body of believers; so I know that this body has not been immune to that dysfunction, not in the past and not since I’ve been here.
With no malice – and certainly with no sugar coating – I have to say: we are a broken body that is in desperate need of healing and rebuilding. I’m not saying we need to reinvent ourselves or start scheduling a lot of new and different kinds of events in order to bring people in, because, quite frankly, I fear bringing a lot of people into this state of brokenness.
Our problem isn’t the number of people in the building; it’s lack of community, a separation from God and from others. The answer, again, is not getting a lot people into the building; it’s reconnecting with God and with the body of believers that he is building here. Certainly, we all – all of us – need to be sharing the Gospel with friends and family and inviting others, but not into our building or our programs or even our worship service; rather, we need to invite others into Christ’s body, his church, his presence and let him build us into “a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:21).
Yes, we have work to do, but Christ is the head of this body; Paul reminds us in Ephesians 4:16, “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Our work is to build up this body in love so that we might all fulfill God’s purpose for the church: to reconcile the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:18, 19). So, join me in this new year as we focus on community. We need each other, and this world needs us because this world needs God.