It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren. -Dietrich Bonhoeffer
This post, as you may have noticed, is a bit late getting up. Part of the reason is that my life was quite hectic the past week, part of it was that I was unsure how I wanted to approach the subject, but a large part was because it makes me homesick.
This weeks topic was about how we choose a faith community. This is near and dear to my heart because I have had such wonderful (and also less than wonderful) experiences in my past with this. As I dwelt on how it is that I have chosen a local body in the past and what I will look for going forward, my heart kept coming back to my faith community in PA.
Life has not been particularly easy the last 7 years and the only way I could have made it through is by the grace of God and the wonderful body of believers he settled me in. These people became my family and prayed over and with me through the darkest and most difficult days of my life. They are precious to me and I am grateful for them every day. Most of the call (or have called at some point) Hope Community Church (King of Prussia) home, although not all. All have been dedicated to growing together, seeking God and serving people.
This is the kind of community I look for. Nothing is going to be the same as my last home (even we’re I to return to the same building, the body is a dynamic, growing organism not a static establishment). But the key elements are ones I have learned to prioritize in choosing a church.
1. Christ centered and biblically based. While this may seem simple, it is very profound. The church is not a social club but a gathering of people to pursue a closer relationship with God and others. As the body of Christ, it is important that we are “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2a-NASB). Worship is not just music (although it is one of the most accessible forms of worship and very important) and it is important that our community is a body of worshipers who worship “in spirit and in truth.” This is the first criteria we use when choosing a church.
2. Welcoming and inclusive community. As we talked we both concluded that inclusion is an important part of church for us. Again, church isn’t a social club, you don’t just get to include people you like or find interesting. Paul is very clear in Corinthians that God’s body should not be a place where only one kind of person is welcome. When looking for a church to call home, we feel strongly that it should be not only a place that makes us feel welcome but all people. Jesus got a ton of flack for it but he modeled perfectly for us- he associated with “tax collectors and sinners” as well as the religious elite, the wealthy, the poor, the sick and the well. Jesus didn’t exclude any group from the conversation and neither should we. You will inevitably have some people who are closer to each other than others but it is the job of the entire church to actively be watching for the person who feels outside, alone, or rejected and make them feel welcomed, a part of the community and loved. A loving church is the kind we want to be a part of.
3. Service and outward focused. Speaking of love, love is active. James points out that while our gospel is not one of works ( you don’t earn heaven by doing more good things), a faith without action is dead. We cannot claim to represent Love himself and yet sit idly by in our bubble and take care of only ourself and good luck to the world and the rest of our body home and abroad. John 3:16 says “God so love the world that he GAVE his one and only son”. Love cannot be separated from giving- time, money, support, energy, food, clothes, acceptance. Giving is at the heart of love. A community that does not make giving to each other and the world at large, is out of touch with the heart of God, which responds to a hurting and distant world by drawing close and giving sacrificially.
At the end of our conversation we concluded that truthfully we will need to walk it out as we take this topic head on. We can’t fully know how we will choose a community of worship until we choose a community of worship. But understanding what is important to us is crucial.
So, to my partner and my friend, my brother in Christ and co-worshiper. Thank you so much for being with me on this journey. Thank you for prioritizing our faith and insisting (with me) that we consider and choose our local church family carefully. Thank you for serving God and others with me. I am so blessed to have you by my side.