Whenever I bring non-religious or non-practicing friends to church, the most common comment I get afterward is, "I miss being part of a community," or "I didn't realize how much I miss interacting with elders - with people of all ages." As someone who always had religious community but needed to move to a new denomination to find spiritual fulfillment, I have had to learn from others that I cannot take community for granted.

Community is at the heart of being truly religious. You cannot practice your faith alone. Individualistic spirituality is a lie told to us by our consumer culture, which wants to sell us yoga DVDs, Christian self-help books, and subscriptions to biblical-oil-of-the-month clubs. Jesus didn't say, "Whenever you need a personal life coach, I'm your man." Matthew tells us he said, "'For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.'" (Matthew 18:20)

Community is often what those outside our churches crave most about religious life.

In community, we are best able to suppress the voice of egotism and listen to God's call upon us collectively. This is as true for ministers as it is for congregants - probably even more so. Ministers are most at risk of playing the part of the spiritual hypocrite Jesus warns us about in Matthew's gospel. He says there, "'And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.'" (Matthew 6:5). Ministers must always be mindful to practice what they preach, and community holds them responsible to the higher standards of our collective faith.

While my own call to service is clear to me in theory (I want to minister to the doubting Thomases of our spiritual-but-not-religious age), how that call translates to real-life practice in a church or community setting is something that I cannot discern alone. That is work for God's people to discern together. Not only is that more faithful, but community is often what those outside our churches crave most about religious life. I look forward to working with others who hear a similar call upon their lives as well as those whose call is entirely different, to see what good we can do in this world - not alone - but together as Christians.

 

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