As many of us seek a restoration of sound biblical teaching, seeking depth and awe in place of shallowness and entertainment, I don’t think I hear enough on the importance of real community in the church. I will trumpet right along anyone else the absolute essential of having sound, rigorous biblical exposition. Without it, all else is lost. However, we must also have a community of faith gathered around the Word in which we encourage, rebuke, help, strengthen, watch over and pray for one another. If we speak with the tongues of men and angels … and if we understand all mysteries and all knowledge but have not love we are nothing- love that is not merely nice respectability but deep affection forged through sacrificing for one another, hurting with and rejoicing with one another. There are as many cultural forces fighting against the establishment of this sort of fellowship as there are against sound teaching.
The value of this community came to mind again today when I was home for lunch. Somehow in our lunch table conversation (with my wife and four boys) something was mentioned about sisters. My three year old, Benjamin, said “My sister [is] named Anna Beth.” Anna Beth is a young girl in our church, one of his friends, but as my wife pointed out to him, not technically his sister. My wife, who is pregnant, went on to say, “This baby might be a sister for you and we could name her …” and she mentioned an option. Benjamin responded, “I want to name our baby Michael Tankersley!” Michael is the son of one of my fellow elders and is one of Benjamin’s close friends. I guess he thought, “Let’s just have another Michael here!”
It was all funny and quite cute. On my way back to the office, though, it hit me. While he knows the distinction between our immediate family and his church family, the distinction is not sharp. Those at church are to him family. They are in his mind, brothers and sisters. This made my heart well up in a huge, “Yes!” He is from his early days learning to see the community of faith not as something ‘out there’ but as part of our intimate circle. One of my prayers for my boys is that close-knit church community be a basic assumption from their earliest days.
As we labor in the ministry let us labor for the community of the saints, that the watching world might know by our real and active love for one another that we are indeed followers of Christ.