Last Friday night I posed a question to the church members who had gathered to study the Bible together: how is being part of a church different to catching a bus? After all, both cases have a group of people heading in the same direction.
After we got past the more obvious answers, like the fact that you don’t need to pay to go to church, we had a useful discussion about what community should be like.
After all, most of us have caught buses or trains at some stage. I learnt that the experience is pretty universal; on a table of people from many countries, who had lived in a range of different places, they all said that public transport is the same everywhere. There are unwritten rules about how to travel. You must not look at or greet people on the train that you do not know. If there is a seat free where you do not have to sit next to someone, that is the one you must choose. And while on the journey, it is acceptable to listen to music, play on your phone or tablet, or read, but you must not talk. Just because these people are heading in the same direction as you doesn’t mean that you need to care about them in any way.
Church can sometimes be like that, unfortunately. There are people who just turn up at services, then head off once the formal time is done. For them, church is about the formal part, and relationships with other Christians is not the main idea (or even a very significant one). Ultimately, using a church like this makes it all about you. Once you have what you have from the service, you may go.
Why are we talking about buses instead of studying the Bible, you might ask? Well, we are looking at 1 Corinthians 12 to 14 this term, which covers lots of issues around church. Our passage last Friday night was the one body, many parts passage from 1 Corinthians 12. And the kind of community it described was nothing like being on a bus. (And, tellingly, often not like our experience of church either). Paul tells us that we are all members of one body, and that means each member matters. Some have a tendency to think too highly of themselves, and they need to be reminded that Christ died for all in the church. Some think too lowly of themselves, and don’t know where they fit, and they need encouragement to contribute and to serve for their contribution is useful. Each one is just where God wants them to be.
The verse that led to the most discussion was v26. In the ESV it reads like this: “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” This is a description of family, where and achievement by one member leads to family dinners, and when a loss by one leads to hugs and prayers. Community is hard for us modern individualistic people who don’t know our neighbours and who don’t socialize with our workmates. But it is acting like this that will lead to people knowing that we are Jesus’ disciples.
So where do we go from here? We need to make sure our community is genuine and not just us caring for those like us, who we like, and who we would care for naturally anyway. We show it through intentionally caring for those who are different to us in culture, in age, in personality. We show it by accepting, really accepting and befriending, the people who are a little odd. Who don’t fit in easily. Who are not popular. Funnily enough, these are the kind of people Jesus would spend time with.