Three values of an authentic community
Iain Hesketh shares lessons learned from Elim missionaries and partners.
I want to explore three values of authentic community which I have seen evidenced through the work of our missionaries and partners who are planting gospel communities.
They may not use the terms I am using to describe authentic community, but I find these a helpful way of describing what we should go for in pioneering movements to reach nations.
I want to suggest that if these values are expressed in our communities of faith, then we will not only develop authentic communities, but we will be nearer to being the kind of people that God imagined.
Let me be clear, this is not about imposing a model for how our community functions, but about living out the intangibles of the Kingdom with gospel intentionality.
Devoted to God
When I think of our churches in parts of the world where danger and persecution are very real, their devotion to God is a value that permeates their lives and underpins their practices.
In authentic communities, devotion to God is seen through whole life dependence on Christ. When you hear the stories of persecution of our brothers and sisters in West Africa, India or Pakistan, you cannot help but be inspired by their devotion to the Lord.
You will find they have an unwavering commitment to be submitted to Jesus as Lord of all things, through expressed obedience to his ways, and in worship as service to his purposes.
When devotion to God’s agenda takes pre-eminence, and community leaders cast vision for this, communities are united through commitment to Christ’s cause in redeeming all things, not just some of them.
Shared life in community
It is easy to look at the early days of the church in Acts and idealise what we read, but I think it reveals something of the values that are foundational for the church.
So much of the church’s story has developed in the passing of centuries since then, not always for the better. We must ask what is the principle that we see in operation that would cultivate a compelling alternative to the self-preservation we see in so much of our world.
The churches I see growing with new life are those that choose to live for the good of others, both in the community and beyond. This kind of life breeds a life-giving dynamic that is radically different from the prevailing culture of the world.
For example, in the Philippines people in gospel communities are connected by a contagious relationship that creates holy curiosity in others. The believers are relentlessly focused on disciple-making through simple reproducible patterns, so that people far from God might come to experience his grace.
Witness to Jesus
In Scripture, and in authentic communities of faith the world over, we see that where there is clarity about why the church exists people will come to faith in Jesus.
In Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8, Jesus commissions the Apostles, and by implication all those who follow, to be witnesses to his resurrection.
The gospel of Jesus is good news to the whole person and indeed for the whole world.
In the life of Jesus, we see him demonstrating incredible compassion, and boldly inviting people to follow him. If our witness does not allow the good news to be proclaimed then we are simply doing good works.
If our witness does not show compassion for the poor, hurting and lost, then we are nothing more than a noise.
Our collective witness is to the transformative power of the gospel expressed through our sacrificial love for others. It sends a powerful message to a selfie-obsessed world that there is a better alternative.
What are authentic communities like? You will find they are centred on mission as the organising principle for community life, and that they are surrendered to the Spirit in willingness to be sent wherever, and to send whomever God calls, to bear witness to him and make disciples.
I guess the question is, what kind of life do you want to live? One that is closed and safe, or one that is given over to God, knowing the deep joy of fellowship with others on mission with Jesus?
Following Jesus is a call to authentic community; anything less is to miss the life Jesus intended.
Iain is International Missions Director of the Elim Churches. He commenced his ministry on the team at Elim’s Reading church, followed by six years as the Senior Pastor of Encounter Church, Selly Oak.
This article first appeared in Direction Magazine. For further details please follow this link: Direction Magazine.
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