Community: The physical, incarnate presence of Jesus Christ in the world

If I had to describe the vision of God for His Church in one word it would be this: incarnate.

Our vision is to see Center City Springfield be literally transformed into a community of Christian love and expression—a haven for the weary and broken-hearted, a refuge for the oppressed and exploited, a place where the name of Jesus Christ is not only proclaimed but His life embodied. When you understand what the true incarnation of Jesus in His Church looks like, it seems impossible in our day and age. But tell me something. If this is God’s will for the Church—and we believe it is—is it impossible? I think we know the answer to that. It’s found in Luke 1:37 among other places. “For nothing is impossible with God!” Do you believe it? No, really. Do you trust it? Is your life proof that you trust Him? We know that “without faith it is impossible to please God.” Therefore, if we do not believe that God can make His vision for His Church happen, then we lack faith and dishonor God.

The ministry of Jesus and his early followers, particularly described in Acts 2:42-47, is the inspiration of this vision. It’s nothing new. Churches have used these scriptures as foundational for hundreds of years. What God has been revealing to me, however, is a deeper evaluation of the Church’s place and face in Western civilization in light of these scriptures. Let’s look at the core concepts and evaluate the current standing of the typical American church in comparison to these passages.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”– Acts 2:42-47

Wow! Take a few seconds and try to picture such a church in your mind…

Now, picture the churches you have been a part of up to this point in your life. How do they compare? Most churches have lots of teaching in various forms—Sunday school, sermons, Bible studies. But how much focus is there on one-on-one discipleship, or mentoring, for each member? Most churches also have “fellowships” of some sort or another every so often. But is this what the Bible describes as fellowship?

The rest of this passage describes the kind of commitment we are to have to fellowship. We have certainly gotten the food part right! But the frequency is what stands out to me. These believers fellowshipped daily! And it was more than just eating and talking about the weather. It was sharing concerns, needs, questions of faith, encouragement and rebuke. I am not suggesting we hold “church services” every day or that all members will be expected to commit to meeting daily with the church body. I am pleading for us to commit ourselves much more strongly to one another than we currently do.

The recent emphasis on small groups of some churches is the greatest step we have taken in a while. But statistics show that “worship services” are still the main attraction. A mere 20% of church-goers are actively committed to a true small group (which is quite different from a traditional “Sunday school” class). That also tends to be the group that carries out the vast majority of the ministry of the Church. The rest just sit in the nosebleed section and watch.

While fellowship tends to involve food, how many Church communities eat together more than once a week? How often do you have dinner with members of your church? And when you do, how much of your conversation “praises God”? Finally, does the Church as a whole enjoy the favor of the public at large? Well, it enjoys the favor of the majority of the population in America who consider themselves “Christian” (which accounts for over half of Americans!). But what about the non-Christian public? What about the people at your workplace? What about the people who work at the restaurants and stores you frequent on Sunday afternoon? What about amongst the poor and destitute, homosexuals, the intellectual community? What about the foreign nations who view America as a “Christian nation” that represents God? Does our culture (largely comprised of self-proclaimed Christians) reflect Christ? Does our foreign and domestic policy of power, domination, and wealth at all costs reflect Christ to the world?

A humble, well-informed, well-reasoned evaluation of the outside perception of the Church should reveal that we have strayed far from the Church’s previous reputation as being a safe haven from fighting, hurting, and exploitation. There are a number of reasons for that. The main reason is that in many ways most churches have replaced being the Church with “doing church”. But it didn’t happen overnight. It happened as our values shifted over time. Today’s society—and Christians, by and large, are no exception—values success, progress and prosperity above anything else, whether we realize it or not. Parents are so consumed with “providing the best for their family” that they neglect the most important thing they can provide—themselves. With families having so little time to spend together, how much time do we have to spend in true Biblical community with the Body of Christ? How much time do we have to spend studying the scriptures? We can chisel out enough time to attend an hour and a half service once or twice a week at most—three times for the most committed. But on an integral, day-by-day basis? We’re just too busy to be the Church—going to church is all too convenient.

We’re not merely interested in starting a “hip” new ministry with better programs, more cutting-edge music, a greater appreciation of the arts, or “postmodern” methodology. God’s calling for us, right here and now, stops nothing short of a reevaluation and reprioritizing of the very values that inscribe the decisions and drive the activities of our lives. Read that sentence again... This includes our careers, our schedules, our plans for the future, the use of our time and finances, everything that God has entrusted us with as stewards. There is no part of our lives that does not fall under the jurisdiction of God.

God never said the way of the cross was the most convenient, practical, safe, secure, certain way to go. The path of the cross is narrow, hard, painful and uncertain. The only certainty we have is of heaven (and if Ruth Graham is right, it is likely that about 80% of church-goers are lost!). Paradoxically, it is this road alone that provides the most complete joy we can obtain.

If the way of the cross is not what you seek, then you will not fit into the vision of this movement in any way, form or fashion. And if the road you’re traveling is based more on financial security, notoriety, personal pleasure (or anything else for that matter) than a wholehearted, surrendered passion to follow hard after Jesus all the days of your life, then you are traveling the wide and crooked road that leads to destruction, not the way of the Cross of Jesus Christ. Money and power are America’s gods, and she’s not ashamed of it. She proclaims allegiance to them from every rooftop. Our present society is built on the values of cut-throat capitalism more than it is built upon the principles of Jesus. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:24 that we cannot serve two gods. We can’t claim to pledge allegiance to God when we pledge allegiance anyone or anything else. That is the truly revolutionary message of the Gospel. It’s all or nothing. What are the implications of that? We don’t pretend for a moment that the answers are easy to find, let alone to put into practice. But that’s what we hope to explore and live out in the context of The Core.

You don’t have to take my word on all this. There are hundreds of books written about these issues. Here’s a good start:

§ The McDonaldization of Society by George Ritzer provides an overview of our society’s values.
§ Mustard Seed vs. McWorld by Tom Sine applies McDonaldization Theory to the Church.
§ Christianity Incorporated and The Church as Counterculture by Michael Budde and Robert Brimlow et al, describe the Church’s substitution of the surrounding cultural values for the values of Jesus.
§ The Celtic Way of Evangelism by George Hunter III describes the Irish Celtic Christian movement of St. Patrick and compares their pre-Christian, barbarian culture to our current cultural situation.
§ The Younger Evangelicals by Robert Webber takes an in-depth look at this culture and it’s implications for the Church.
§ In Seizing Your Divine Moment and The Barbarian Way, Erwin R. McManus challenges his readers to live lives of radical faith in a great God no matter what the cost.


While these books provide a tremendous amount of insight to contribute to this discussion, they are merely the tip of the iceberg of resources that address this issue. The fact of the matter is, the direction God is leading us has not been determined on a whim, but on a foundation, first, of prayer, and second, of solid academic and theological research and analysis—all undergirded, most importantly, by the Word of God. If the conclusions presented here don’t compute for you, then let’s talk about it. Furthermore, explore God’s word through a new lens, venture out into a few of these books and explore for yourself. And never stop learning. Too often we get to a place where we think we have things all figured out— or we quit trying, because it’s too much work. But we, as Christians, don’t have either of those options while we’re still here on this earth.

Even if you are committed to another church body or are distant from Center City Springfield, you still play a vital role in this movement. It’s called your Jerusalem. This vision is not just for this church, but for the Church as a whole. You can be instrumental in carrying out the vision right where you are. If you know someone in this area who would embrace the calling of this church, send them our way. If you experience a leading of the Holy Spirit to physically join us in some way in Center City, we invite you to join God where He leads you.

Right now we are in the process of building a core group (no pun intended) of disciples and urban missionaries to build relationships with non-believers, tend to their needs and disciple them into mature faith. As I said previously, your insight is valuable—in fact, vital—to the success of this movement. One voice crying in the wilderness just isn’t going to cut it this time. But unless I’m delusional, I’ve been hearing lots of cries in the wilderness lately from people who are tired of serving a little god in a box and ready to give their lives in service of the indescribable, uncontainable, incomparable, God of endless possibility and pleasure.

God is moving. Are you going to join Him or sit in the nosebleed section and watch? God is producing a grand drama (in which He is the star, of course!). Are you going to play a supporting role in His Great Story, or keep starring in your own little story?

We have heard a lot of interest, but very few people are willing to commit to completely abandoning their agendas for lives for the sake of the Gospel. As I previously suggested, if you’re intent on fitting the Body of Christ into your schedule, rather than fitting your life around the Body of Christ, this is not for you. But if my words have been an encouragement and motivation to you rather than a brutal assault on your self-esteem, then get on board. (Choo-choooo!)

Your gifts are welcomed, celebrated and needed for the church to function as a healthy body. Each and every one of us has valuable gifts from God which are vital for the health of the Body. Without our giftings being utilized to their fullest potential, the community will not see a true picture of Christ and our message is incomplete and skewed.

We have found a peculiar dilemma on our hands. This movement needs committed, mature, passionate Christians to join in and carry it. But everyone who fits that description seems to be committed to and involved in a church already! What I’m asking is, are you willing to step out and give your life to a new work in Center City Springfield? If so, give me a call or drop me an e-mail. Please commit this to prayer, study, discussion and anything else you need to make a wise and wholehearted decision. If you just want to check it out or learn more, then by all means do so. May the Spirit of God lead you, and may you submit to Him wherever He leads.

Grace, peace and love,


matt

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