The first time I experienced Christian community I was at college and I was invited to a Christian meeting run by Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. I remember three things about that meeting:
The sophomore girl leading the singing time was really smiley and happy. She sang like she meant it and they were songs about God.
There was a special needs guy up there helping with the music. (not only was he accepted among them, but given a bit of platform as well).
I got cornered by someone who tried to evangelize me and sent me home with a track.
Eric, the friend who brought me felt really bad about the evangelistic missile that hit me at the end. He said, “I left you for just a minute and then….” That was an outlier to me. Every group of people has its zealots. He sort of evens out the smiley girl doing the singing. She too was an outlier in my mind.
However, the young special needs guy, who wouldn’t fit in anywhere else, out in front helping with the singing, that stuck with me. Somewhere inside, I concluded that if this group could accept him, even when they get to know the real me, they might even accept me too.
I didn’t go back.
But I wanted to.
Doing Christian things didn’t fit into my life, but I remembered that there was a cool, accepting community that met on Friday nights. When my mother died in the following semester, the guys on my hall didn’t know what to do with me. They said, “let’s find Eric.”
With my mother gone, I began doing college at two levels. In one way, I was a regular guy trying to get a turn playing Madden or Tetris on my roommates Nintendo, playing hoops, and attending classes. But on another level I had questions and I remember a community of people who were different and would likely answer the questions differently.. They seemed to care about each other and accept each other. I really had never seen that before.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35
Jesus’ brand, you might say, is the church. The way the church loves one another is the way Jesus is known in this world. Love can’t be faked nor can it be projected. If it is real, people see it and want it. If not, that will be seen soon enough for what it is.
One of my favorite authors, Francis Schaeffer speaks on this passage referring to it in the title of his book, The Mark of the Christian saying:
“In John 13 the point was that, if an individual Christian does not show love toward other true Christians, the world has a right to judge that he is not a Christian. Here Jesus is stating something else which is much more cutting, much more profound: We cannot expect the world to believe that the Father sent the Son, that Jesus’ claims are true, and that Christianity is true, unless the world sees some reality of the oneness of true Christians." (27)
This is why, as we begin to be the church, we begin with fellowship, with community, knowing each other and enjoying each other. Knowing and enjoying are the first moves of all real relationship. If we want to extend our love to the world, we first extend that love to one another and like the love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, it overflows with unstoppable force.
Please join us this Sunday evening at 5:00 as we have our first gathering as a new church community. It will be simple and relational and it will be our first step into life as a church. Even if you are not sure as to whether you are ready to be a part of a church plant, you can bless the church plant by showing up and bringing your presence. As you hang with us and as we get to know each other, you will know if church planting is for you.