Struggling Together: The Need for Intentional Christian Communities

Originally posted on A Clear Lens.

Comfortable individualism is the gangrene of the contemporary Church. It festers into complacency and breeds dissension. The Church has lost its place in the 21st Century, as is evident by the mass exodus of church attendees. The statistics are in, and it doesn’t look good: people are leaving congregations at increased rates. Unless we do something about this crisis, the “body of Christ” will atrophy and whither into obsoleteness. We are in desperate need of intentional Christian communities where we feel free to voice our struggles and encourage one another onto spiritual maturity, which has significant ramifications for the Gospel.

Have we forgotten how to be “members of one another” (Eph. 4:25)? Why has it become so hard to be vulnerable with fellow church members–the ones we expect to be the most loving and willing to help when we’re in need? In other words, there is little “iron sharpening iron” (Prov. 27:17) to be seen. We seemed to have turned the Church into a self-help club that we attend on one or two days a week. The concept of the Church supporting itself as a body (1 Cor. 12:12) or family (Eph. 2:19) is essentially nonexistent. We have lost what was evident in the Early Church, and it’s time we get it back because church attendees are leaving their congregations at an exponential rate.

The Apostle Paul says something remarkable in Galatians 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” The “Law of Christ” alludes to Jesus’ statements recorded in John 13:34: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” Christ’s love is what must govern our thoughts and actions if we are to be an effective body of believers in the midst of this hostile world (John 15:18-19; 17:18; 1 John 5:19).

Although there are many reasons why people are leaving the Church, one of the more prominent ones can be summed up in three words: no relevant depth. Churches are failing to give their congregations the necessary spiritual enrichment to tackle the issues their attendees are facing. Whether it’s a shallow sermon or an apathetic congregation, the result is the increasing impotence of Christian communities.

So how do we make Church more relevantly enriching for the lives of attendees? By striving side by side for a purpose that is greater than our individual interests: the Gospel (Phil. 1:27). How do we strive side by side? By coming together in “one mind.” (Phil. 2:2-4). How do we do this? By loving one another as Christ loved us. How did Jesus love us? He “gave himself us for us” (Eph. 5:2) and “emptied himself” to became a “servant” (Phil. 2:7). We, likewise, are to intentionally come alongside our Christian friends and acquaintances in their suffering. Paul says: “if one member suffers, all suffer together” (1 Cor. 12:26). Can this be any clearer? It’s time to suffer together through our spiritual journey.

The Gospel has always been the purpose of the Church (Matt. 28:19-20; John 17:18; 1 Tim. 2:1-4; Titus 2:11). Have we forgotten this? We have traded purpose for comfort; we have exchanged evangelism for selfish spirituality. If we lose sight of the ever-relevant mandate to proclaim the “good news” (Matt. 28:19-20), then the individualistic gangrene of our culture will continue to fester.

So how do we develop intentional communities? By first focusing on the need for Christian growth. Romans 5:3-5, Hebrews 12:5-11 and James 1:2-4 support the notion that suffering is good because it reaps bountifully beneficial results. Through struggles, then, we are disciplined and chiseled into mature Christians who will then be able to encourage others as they endure the same hardships (2 Cor. 1:3-7; Gal. 6:1; 2 Tim. 2:10).

Everyone’s human, which means everyone has the same struggles (1 Cor. 10:13). If that’s the case, then those who have experience must help those who don’t; we all have something to give, whether it’s wisdom, advice or even just the stories of our experiences (i.e., testimonies). We, as individuals, each serve a purpose in the grand scheme of the solitary “body” (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:27), so we must each do our part in contributing to the health of the whole. It takes an enormous amount of selflessness, but this is what’s expected of a Christian community. It takes vulnerability, openness and intentionality.

Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). The type of love we are called to have is the same love he has for us (13:34). How did Jesus love us? He “gave himself us for us” (Eph. 5:2) and “emptied himself” to became a “servant” (Phil. 2:7). We, likewise, are to intentionally come alongside our Christian friends and acquaintances in their suffering and offer whatever help they need. Whatever form their suffering takes, we are to treat them as we would like to be treated (Matt. 22:39; Lev. 19:18), listen to them (see Jam. 1:19), pray for them (Jam. 5:16), offer a helping hand if it’s required (see Jam. 2:15-16), and give them wise encouragement (see Col. 3:16).

As Christians, love must govern our actions and the Gospel must govern our purpose. The Church needs to cultivate support for struggling members so it can be an effective conduit for the Gospel. The first thing we must destroy is our individualistic ideals; we cannot treat Christianity as a self-help tool anymore. We need to be intentional and attentive to the brothers and sisters around us in new and more meaningful ways. Instead of scraping by on tidbits of self-focused spirituality, we need to feast on the banquet available in Gospel-focused communities. Only then will we give Church attendees a relevant depth to the faith we proclaim.

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Sources:

Barna Group. “Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church.” Barna Group. https://www.barna.org/teens-next-gen-articles/528-six-reasons-young-christians-leave-church

Fee, Gordon D. 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1984, 1988.

——————. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.

Grant, Tobin. “7.5 Million Americans Have ‘Lost Their Religion’ Since 2012.” Huff Post: Religion. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/13/americans-no-religion_n_6864536.html (accessed March 16, 2015).

Hurd, Seth Tower. “The Unexpected Things Millennials Want in Church.” Relevant. http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/unexpected-things-millennials-want-church (accessed March 16, 2015)

Jim. “Barna Study: Even Christians Are Leaving Our Churches.” Not For Itching Ears. http://notforitchingears.com/2015/01/21/barna-study-even-christians-are-leaving-our-churches/

Pratt Jr., Richard L. I & II Corinthians Holman New Testament Commentary. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000.

Smith, Cassandra. “Confessions of a Former Church Cynic.” Relevant. http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/god-our-generation/confessions-former-church-cynic (accessed March 16, 2015).

Stetzer, Ed. “Dropouts and Disciples: How many students are really leaving the church?” Christianity Today. http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/may/dropouts-and-disciples-how-many-students-are-really-leaving.html?paging=off (accessed March 16, 2015)

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