In September the Redeemer churches began a year-long sermon series and ministry theme on “Formation: in Christ, with community, for the city.” Right now we are focusing on the second part of that statement: how participation in a Christian community is one of the necessary ingredients of true and lasting Christian formation.
According to the New Testament, community is an essential, not optional, part of the Christian life. The Apostle Peter writes, “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5). The image is evocative: Peter suggests that Christians depend on one another the way stones in a building do. A pile of stones merely gathered together in one place is, well, just that: a pile of stones. But that pile of stones can be transformed into a beautiful building if — and only if — those stones are fitted together in close relationship, where every stone is both supporting and being supported. If Christians are to grow and flourish they are expected to be in interdependent relationships in which they depend on other Christians, and other Christians depend on them.
The idea of Christian interdependence can be difficult for some of us to stomach. We modern people prize optionality, self-sufficiency, and individualism. David Brooks describes our culture as the culture of “the Big Me,” in which everyone (more or less) thinks that they are really awesome and that the world does in fact revolve around them. With this mindset, self-reliance is a virtue and expression of a need for others is seen as weakness. Brooks writes:
We live in a more individualistic society. If you humbly believe that you are not individually strong enough to defeat your own weaknesses, then you know that you must be dependent on redemptive assistance from the outside. But if you proudly believe the truest answers can be found in the real you, the voice inside, then you are less likely to become engaged with others. Sure enough, there has been a steady decline in intimacy.
– David Brooks, The Road to Character (New York: Random House, 2015, p. 257).
While there are certainly things to celebrate regarding modern progress toward individual freedoms, the reality is that total self-sufficiency is an idol that will crush all of its worshippers. There is simply too much in life that is too hard to be borne alone — and deep down, we know this to be true. That’s why the church and the invitation to Christian community are gifts from God. He knows that we are weak, and so in his kindness has said that we need not go alone.
Sustaining an interdependent community is not easy. What’s more — too many people have been hurt, ignored or forgotten even as they tried to connect more deeply to other Christians. So if this kind of community will exist in our churches, it will only happen through grace. Peter went on to write, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (1 Peter 2:7). Christians are invited into this new community because Jesus was rejected. Christians are built together into something surprisingly beautiful only in and through Jesus Christ, the cornerstone.
What’s your next step towards greater community involvement at Redeemer? For some it’s getting consistent with showing up to worship every Sunday. For others it’s committing to a Community Group. Or maybe it’s time to consider joining the church as a formal member. Whatever your next step is, take it. God has invited us to get going, and you need not go alone.
In his poem “Choruses from the Rock,” T. S. Eliot wrote,
What life have you, if you have
not life together?
There is not life that is not in community,
And no community not lived in
praise of God.
To learn more about Formation, visit redeemer.com/formation.