Sunday, December 4, 2011

Being Part of God's Community

During the 19th century and first half of the 20th century community spirit was much in vogue.  It was common for neighbors to help neighbors during times of need, especially in rural America.  Growing up during the latter years of this period, before the radical shift to individualism occurred, I was fortunate enough to witness this phenomenon.  While still a young boy, I had the privilege of attending a barn raising where farmers from twenty miles around came together to help a neighbor to build a new barn.  As part of a threshing ring, our family along with several others bought a threshing machine to harvest grain.  During the harvesting season, the entire group would move from farm to farm, harvesting each farmer’s grain, the men and boys working in the fields, the wives and girls cooking the  meals.  I have always felt privileged to have been old enough to participate in this activity prior to its cessation from American life.  One spring, when my father was ill and unable to prepare our fields for planting, several neighbors showed up one Saturday morning with their tractors and plows to plow the fields.  These types of activities were common during my youth.

Moving into the latter half of the 20th century things radically changed with the rise of both industrialization and individualism.  The urban flight to suburbia with its protected yards and garage door openers, the vast increase in mechanized equipment on the farms, the shift in attitude towards “doing one’s own thing” and “I’ve got to be me” all led us away from community.  Front porches, with neighbors sitting on them conversing, were replaced with decks in backyards, resulting in further loss of community.  Churches, by en large, also succumbed to this loss as, with better roads and faster automobiles being coupled with the thrill of individualism, the concept of local community churches disappeared.  It is not uncommon today for people to live twenty or thirty miles away from the church where they worship. 

The emphasis upon individualism which began in the 1960s, moved through modernism into the postmodern era, has increasingly fractured society, with many today feeling alone, aloof and disenfranchised.  The void that individualism brings can only be filled by community because God, being triune, is in community and expressed the need for human community when he said “It is not good for man to be alone.”  In establishing the covenant with Israel he established a community.  In constituting the church, God chose the symbol of the body to illustrate its communal nature.  We are called together, with the understanding that we need each other to function properly.  

The church, because of its body structure, is poised to overturn the aloneness and abandonment of our current individualistic society.  As a caring community, it can reach out to the world, meeting the needs of the people we find there.  But community does not occur by osmosis.  It requires intentionality.   It will not occur without deliberate effort. To be successful, it will require men and women coming together with the conviction that God has called them to such an endeavor. 

But the church is only made up of individuals; individuals who must desire to be a part of community if we are to make a difference.  As both individuals and as a community we can express warmth and love to those whose lives have been fractured, pointing them to God’s kingdom.  But it requires a decision:  Am I willing to abandon my own individualism for the good of God’s community?

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