Community Not the First Priority
In much of the self-definition of the local churches (web-sites, newspaper, front lawn signs, visitor literature) I see reference to a purpose which should be secondary. It is community, a sense of belonging, an opportunity to engage with other people who have made Christian values something important to their lives.
The suggestion is to "come grow with us, embrace a fuller life, enjoy the sense of belonging, join in with programs, provide for your children a safe zone for moral and social development, rise to leadership opportunities with identified aptitudes and help to keep the ball rolling."
But then I go to the Gospels and see Jesus calling out disciples. Simon, Andrew, James and John from their arduous toil on the fishing boats. Matthew from his lucrative tax-gatherer's table. The invitation was simple: "Follow me."
These men had heard the words of wisdom in the spontaneous addresses of "the rabbi", had perhaps observed or heard of the incredible miracles of healing; had sensed majesty in words of absolution pronounced to the penitent; had met full on the convicting yet hopeful gaze of the one who chose them.
The challenge was not easy; the beatitudes unsettling to the status quo; the requirements of service and travel disturbing to family and business connections. Indeed, Matthew in the 10th chapter of his account paints a severe picture of the realities of discipleship. Uncertain dwelling places. Ostracism and rejection. Surprising strife with loved ones. Trusting the Spirit rather than recognized, studied authorities for the right word of witness, guidance or correction. Difficulties with public authorities.
Matthew is the Evangelist who most portrays Jesus as Messianic King (the lion figure) and His followers as ambassadors of an unstoppable Kingdom. He would have agreed whole-heartedly with Paul's words on the role of ambassador in 2 Corinthians 5.
In an earlier life he had been the pragmatist who positioned himself with Rome to collect taxes from his fellow countrymen at an extorted premium. He thought he understood the clear line of division between lives secular and religious. He excused many actions with the claim "business is business". He rose in standing among the publicans and invited many of similar persuasion to his banqueting table. This even occurred on the day of his calling by Jesus, a seeming contradiction. But Jesus had other plans in accepting his invitation - redeeming ones.
We must recognize that there is a dynamic power in the call of "follow me". A chance to listen and observe; to evaluate the manliness and forgiving tendency, the confidence and unequalled compassion of the carpenter from Nazareth. The traits of the Master, studied at length and in earnest prove to be infectious. The transformation in the disciple is not a matter of schooling or frequent assembly, but rather a love response and an assimilation of the nature of Jesus.
Hence the Lord of Glory says unto us: "I have called you for my purposes. Come unto me. Follow me. You will bear fruit. Out there, in the community of the everyday. My blood has sealed the deal."
We gather unto Him in a much more profound sense than our gathering with each other!