I fear we are our own worst enemies in our attempts to “save” the Methodist Church – or even to save our individual churches. Our tendency is to look at the numbers of people on Sunday morning and the numbers of people doing good things in “hands-on mission” as a measure of our health. The measurement of these “vital signs” of church life is in many ways necessary and in some ways helpful. However, the negative side of this work is that we are gathering crowds but I’m not certain we’re building community, which is harder.
Those who were at Asbury Sunday (10/11) heard me talk about our call to continue on our journey into God’s vision and the importance of doing this TOGETHER. And I believe that’s true for any church and every church. The bigger question is, what does it mean to travel this path “together”? And I think the answers can be found to some extent in early Methodism.
John Wesley preached a sermon titled, “The Duty of Reproving Our Neighbor”, which deals with one of the most significant and yet easily ignored aspects of living together as a community and not just a crowd – keeping each other accountable to a life of holiness. Wesley is talking about the times when we know someone is living in a way that is ungodly or acting in a way that is not God-honoring. He’s talking about confronting our brothers and sisters who are dealing with issues of sin in their lives.
He uses Leviticus 19:17:
Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt.
To live our life of faith as a community means we have to speak the truth in love to one another. It means we have to invest our time in building our relationships so that we can honestly and lovingly approach our brother or sister and help them find their way back to the path that leads to life. The reality is, if we fail to live honestly together as a community we will end up living superficiallytogehter as nothing more than a large crowd – in the same place but not connected in meaningful relationships.
Our world is filled with people who are living in a crowd. What people desperately need is the possibility of being part of a community. Methodism in its classic incarnation provides exactly that. And it is that sense of community that we need to recapture – small groups of disciples building close relationships that allow for frank and honest discussion; small groups where walking with Christ is not only about encouraging holiness but also confronting sin.
In regard to the health and growth of our churches is there a way to measure this idea of community? I’m not sure there is. However, that should not hinder us doing what we can to make it happen.
Holy high five to you, Mike