By Beth Demme
Recently I had the privilege of teaching at a women’s conference in Nicaragua. Many of my Nicaraguan friends are shown in this photograph. I’ve been to Nicaragua several times and I’m always encouraged by the love I receive there.
One of the topics I spoke on was “Presencia” – the importance of fully participating in community. My audience was church leaders; people who already understood the need for community. Knowing I didn’t need to convince them, my goal was simply to give voice to their own reasons for community, empowering them to explain to others why community is so valuable.
Initially, I was shy about my topic because the people I’ve met in Nicaragua are far better at “doing” community than we are in the United States. I’m glad I persevered because I learned something in the process—church is like a Picasso painting.
Here’s some of what I taught:
The earliest followers of Christ “spent much time together” and “day by day” they were together eating, learning, serving, and worshipping. (Acts 2:46)
The believers in Acts spent time together in order to build something bigger than themselves. God’s first command to humanity was to “be fruitful and multiply.” (Genesis 1:28) We often think of this in terms of family, but maybe God meant something more than offspring. Maybe God was saying community bears fruit.
Jesus also speaks to the importance of community. In Matthew 18:20, Jesus says: “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (NRSV) Jesus says gather two or three together because we aren’t meant to live in isolation. God wants us to spend time with each other.
When things are going well at church, this is easy to understand. But, sometimes, I don’t want to go to church.
Sometimes there is something else I want to do.
Sometimes I’m tired or I have housework to do.(Is it just me or is there always laundry to wash?)
Sometimes I think I’d rather not be around people.
Sometimes I get my feelings hurt by the church or I feel disappointed in the church.
Can you relate at all?
Sometimes I have reasons for not wanting community, even though I believe God created me for community.
In those times, I choose to be part of the community anyway.
Because I can sense God’s presence, God’s faithfulness, and God’s love through other people.
The author of Hebrews says it well, “let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
In hard times …
If I am going through a hard time, a time when God feels distant or absent, it helps me to see God at work in the lives of other people.
Seeing other people worship, pray, and praise reminds me that God is always with me, even when my senses are dull to God’s presence.
In good times …
When I feel blessed by God, I need to go to church. Chances are, someone else will be there, scared to admit that God feels distant or absent. There might be someone who needs to see God at work in my life.
When we see God at work in each other, and in ourselves, our whole community is stronger.
As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:12: “Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.”
The church is the community of believers known as the Body of Christ.
If we do not gather together, if you are absent, something is missing from the body.
You may think, “I’m not important.”
Or the people you know from church might think they aren’t important. They might think they do not have anything to offer to the Body.
Ideally, we want the Body of Christ to have every single part. Given our imperfections, we may end up a little like a Picasso painting, with our parts out of alignment. But, that’s okay, we still make a beautiful picture (or, at least, an interesting one)!
No one at your church, or mine, should feel like they are not important.
The Apostle Paul says, “If the foot would say, ‘because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body.” (1 Corinthians 12:14)
In other words, when we think we don’t matter, we are wrong.
We do matter. We are part of the Body.
In order for the body to have all of its parts, you and I both have to choose church. If either of us aren’t there, the community is missing something.
What do you think? Do you sometimes have reasons for not choosing church? Do you go anyway? What do you think your community is missing when you are absent? Tell me about it in the comments, in an e-mail, or on Facebook.
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