By Larry Short
At Elim, affinity groups and community groups are the primary place where we practice the “one anothers” of Scripture and walk together to hold each other accountable to become more like Jesus. Moving people into healthy groups and mentoring relationships is key to achieving the second part of our vision: “Grow Together in Christ.”
When we were first married, Darlene and I lived in a small condominium in Southern California. We had very thin walls so we got to know our neighbors well. Nathan, our first child, was born while we lived there, and he was a screamer. I felt very sorry for our neighbor to the east, whose bedroom shared a wall with our nursery.
When our baby was crying, her strategy was to turn her TV set up to a louder volume to drown out the noise. Which is partly how we became aware that she enjoyed listening to a number of big-haired evangelists who were broadcasting their services for the benefit of all the pagans.
When we asked, our neighbor informed us that she did not bother attending worship at any of the fine gatherings in our community. Instead, she pointed to her TV set. “That’s my church,” she said.
Do you ever wonder why we bother to gather TOGETHER as believers? Why Scripture admonishes us, “Forsake not the assembly of the saints?” After all, we have God’s Word. Everything we need to know is right there. And in this modern age, with internet, radio and TV broadcasting, we have plenty of other ways to connect with teaching, worship, etc. Why bother joining a body of believers and assembling with them regularly? What’s to be gained?
For that matter, if God reveals Himself through nature, as well as His Word, why not seek out a monastic life of seclusion, taking your Bible and your favorite worship tape and seeking God each week on the beach or on the slopes of Mt. Rainier?
Scripture refers to Jesus’ Church as “The Body of Christ.” Singular. At Elim, we recognize fully that we are just one small part of a larger Body. Not only is it a worldwide Body, with millions of fellowships meeting together in hundreds of countries, it extends (both directions) throughout time. The author of Hebrews tells us we are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses,” believers who have been translated to glory after “winning the race.” Christ has one Body, and we are all in it, together with them. We also bear a significant responsibility to the believers of the future, those who are yet to come, to keep alive the flame and fan it so that it is burning brightly when they join the fold. (So that we, too, may one day be in that great “cloud of witnesses.”)
Like the Body of Christ, the human body has discrete subunits. There are various limbs, structures, and organs that have different functions, contributing to the health of the whole. And even within each organ, there are billions and billions of discrete cells. And even within each cell, there are further discrete components.
But one thing that marks a healthy, functioning Body is connection. I don’t know about you, but the different parts of my body spend a lot of time together! Those cells all work hard to performing their respective functions as an interdependent part of the whole. Blood cells flood muscle cells with oxygen and other nutrients, which in turn take their signals from nerves to pull against tendons and bones and other muscles in just the right way and sequence for me to type these words. All these different components depend fully on each other for health and survival.
Sure, individual cells may die, and the Body goes on. You can even remove a kidney and survive … but how many of us want to? If everything is working together as it should, we really like to keep all our parts intact. (I kind of like having two kidneys, personally.)
The second part of our vision statement says: “GROW together in Christ.” Growth is another phenomenon that marks a healthy body.
But what kind of growth are we talking about? Is growth simply an expansion in numbers, the addition of cells? There are times in every body life when this is important, and certainly it is vital to build muscle and exercise our brain capacity and replace cells that are dying. But as we all know, growth can also be dysfunctional. Obesity and resulting diseases such as heart disease and diabetes are in epidemic proportions here in the U.S. Another form of uncontrolled or inappropriate growth is cancer, and next to heart disease it is a primary killer.
There’s another kind of growth, and it’s the qualitative kind of growth we should experience as we mature. We all should be gaining and practicing skills, eating healthy, learning more, taking our vitamins, exercising, and growing in health and happiness and contentment and peace and wisdom. It is the qualitative as opposed to the quantitative side of growth.
While “GROW Together in Christ” does not ignore the quantitative side — yes, as a healthy church we will probably be adding numbers as we reach out and serve those around us and invite others in to partake in this Christian life with us — the qualitative side is what we are most concerned about. As believers, are we being transformed into the image of the Christ we follow? Are we making real, measurable progress in our spiritual health? And are we doing it together — a dynamic we frequently refer to as “Body Life,” wherein we are admonishing, exhorting, and challenging one another (in the positive sense, iron sharpening iron); stimulating one another to love and good deeds; exercising our spiritual gifts in interdependent trust and mutual submission to one another?
This sort of a Body Life dynamic cannot be created by a TV program or a website. Facebook in all its glory is no substitute for the local church, for the real-life interactions in which we see Christ in each other and grow toward what we see.
Next week: What sort of growth are we talking about? Is this just all about increasing our numbers? Tune in for another treat. Oh, and to everyone who has gotten this far and emails Pastor Martin to tell him so, we are bringing a special treat for you this Sunday: One of Tomina’s ultra-delicious cinnamon rolls! All you have to do is click here to email Pastor Martin with this single word in the subject line: YUMM!