Ok. It’s rigged! That was the young man’s conclusion after the third attempt at the carnival game. He was ten dollars into his quest and that stuffed animal was as safe as anything under the sun. He realized that the game had a predetermined outcome and a preset means to win. All other attempts will fail.
Years of looking at the process of how Jesus grows believers have convinced me of this truth: The process is rigged. There may be different pathways to maturity but they all involve community if Jesus is involved. Consider this:
- Jesus discipled in groups. Sure, he had individual encounters with people, but there were 12 disciples and 3 of those in the inner circle. He trained developed people in groups.
- The New Testament was predominantly written to churches (communities of believers). Some may correctly observe that the pastoral letters (Timothy and Titus), as well as Philemon, are addressed to individuals, but it is not a far stretch to argue that the subject matter was meant for a much broader audience. Still, that leaves well over 90% of the actual content as intended for communities rather than individuals.
- Finally, there is no small emphasis on relationships, offense, and forgiveness in the New Testament. It seems that when people get together (community) they can “rub wings” and need to regain alignment. (See Matthew 5:21-26, 18:15-18; Eph 5:21-27, 6:1-9, et.al.)
A favorite tool of the enemy to inhibit growth (at least here in the West and particularly in America) is the infatuation we have with individualism and the nearly universal availability of information. The internet makes information as accessible as the phone in your pocket. If you want to know something about anything, Google lets you type it into a search bar, even poorly worded and misspelled, and spits out a gazillion possible matches in a fraction of a second. This access has reduced the reliance on the church as the dispenser of truth about God and His purposeful design. IOW…why go to a church and listen to stuff you may not agree with alongside people you don’t necessarily have a lot in common with, when you can dial up a podcast of some famous guy across town or across the country and listen in the deer stand?
Here’s what is true as I understand the Scriptures: You cannot make it to maturity apart from the community. Consequently, neither can your children or teens…but they won’t know that until after their values are established by the example and incidental leadership of their parents. (What I mean is, if we as parents model in our actions that corporate worship, small group engagement, and relational alignment are unimportant, we set a foundational stone that will guide the conduct of our younger ones perhaps for a generation or more!)
So, how do we move toward maturity?
- Be as committed to and engaged in corporate community (church) as we are to our employers or our kids’ cheer squad or traveling soccer team. I we would commit to three practices a week for baseball, could we really argue that the spiritual maturity of our family deserves less?
- Be engaged in small group ministry. (Yes, engagement is more than membership or sitting through a lesson on Sunday).
- Get married! Commit yourself to one church and one church system. In a world of ubiquitous information it is easy to find Chandler’s podcast, or the church down the road’s singles ministry…but if you’re committed to your church (via formal or implied membership), placing your trust in these other venues may not only be hurtful to your own community, but harmful to your development.
There are a ton of other things we could talk about or adopt regarding community. What is always true and, really, beyond honest debate:
- Jesus loves us, and therefore always acts in our best interest and His glory.
- Jesus designed church as a preferred community for His people. It is not optional. It is a design.
- The closer we are to His design, the more fulfilling we will find the life He created us for.