Creating Community

Wednesday 12 July

Sam Ward is the director of the Eden Network an incarnational mission movement in Manchester that celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.  Here VOX editor Ruth Garvey-Williams brings you a summary of his message on Wednesday evening at #Sligo17.

17 years ago, I relocated from the suburbs of Manchester to one of the most notorious and deprived areas of the inner city.  On one side there was an alcoholic and on the other side was a house full of sex workers.  I was panicking.  That night, we worshipped together and prayed for one another.

We decided to buy a house and take advantage of the ridiculously cheap house prices.  One day, I got a call at work to hear that we had been burgled.  Everything that could be carried had disappeared but we found it all in a neighbour’s house!

We met people whose lives were blighted by alcohol and crippled by drugs.  We met people who were unemployable, who had been abandoned by family and permanently trapped in poverty.  And no one was ready to help.

My heart was burning within me as I realised that God had a calling for my life. When I first became passionate about the poor, I thought I needed to be involved in a homeless project.  I used to go into town taking sandwiches and soup to people living on the streets.  But it felt like it wasn’t enough (especially when I got in my car to drive home at the end of the evening).

What is the answer to poverty?  I don’t think the answer is more hand-outs of stuff or handfuls of advice. The answer is community; Christ-centred kingdom community. 

The opposite of poverty is community.

The first thing we are told in scripture that is “not good” is man’s aloneness.  Adam was made from the dust and yet made in the image of God.  We are not meant to be alone.  We are designed for union and unity, for communion and community.  I’m convinced the first attribute of the image of God is “union”.  Our society tells us that individualism is the ideal and that independence is a sign of success, that self-sufficiency is achieving, and that we are not better together.  We are told to take care of number one.  This is anti-kingdom; it is anti-God and I believe it is sin!

The scripture says, “I will be your God and you will be my people.” Christianity is not individualistic.  We were made to relate and we were made to be together.

This is what I love about John 19.  Christ looks down from the cross and sees His mother and His friend. It is a beautiful moment. “He said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.” 

It is only in loving relationships that the needs of the broken can be ministered to.  But yet we isolate them. We leave people to work things out alone. If you are lonely, if you are sick, if you in debt, if you are addicted, if you are a widow, if you are refugee, if you are workaholic, if you smell bad, if you are human, if you have breath in your lungs…  you need a family. people who will cherish you and support you, understand you and celebrate with you, laugh with you and grieve with you, people who will love you through the suffering and struggle of this life. 

I want this.  I know my brokenness.  I know my need of others.  I want people around me that know me and understand me.  Sadly, I don‘t see it enough.  We isolate people at their most critical moments.  Paul writes a beautiful passage in Romans 12: 9 - 16

Here, Paul describes the beautiful recipe of Kingdom community.  It is going to take agape love. You are going to need to be deeply devoted to one another. Honouring one another.  Rejoicing with those who rejoice.  Mourning with those who mourn.  Living in harmony.  Avoiding pride.  Identifying with the least.  To do this stuff right is going to cost you everything.  It will take the very best of us.  These aren’t communities where some serve and some receive, these are communities where all serve and all receive.

We live deeply.  We move in alongside the broken.  We choose to be God’s people. To be relational in the way we exist, living intentionally for others, living counter-culturally, favouring the least and cherishing the last.  It should not just be about urban missionaries who choose to relocate.  This should be the story of our churches.  John 13: 35 “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

People will see that we love Jesus when we love one another.  We need communities like this.  We need to be able to model something that when people see it, they see and sense the love of God in real and relevant ways.  When we get community right, we get to the very heart of God’s kingdom.  There comes with it reconciliation, redemption and restoration.

2 Corinthians 5: 17 - 21  We are welcomed into the union, the community of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We have been reconciled to the Father through the shed blood of Christ on the cross. There is nothing separating us from the love of God.  The gap between us has been closed.  We are welcomed into the kingdom of God.  We are considered part of the family, as children of God and as co-heirs with Christ.  We are included in the eternal community.  We find ourselves at home with God.

And God calls us to replicate this wonder to the world.  We bring this ministry of reconciliation to our neighbours.  He calls us to make communities in Jesus’ name.  He calls us to draw people back to God and to reveal the true nature of community and to display the values of the eternal family. We should imitate the reconciliation that we have received.  People should get a foretaste of the Kingdom, a foretaste of heaven when they are with us.

Take a moment to think about your church.  Are we loving sacrificially?  Or are we clinging to the wrong things? Are we honouring others or seeking our own honour?  Are we apathetic or are we serving passionately? Do we have hope that things might change in our communities?  Do we suffer badly?  Are we faithful in prayer?  Are your prayer meetings full of people desperate to transform, rescue and save?  Are we hospitable? Do we live in harmony or is there division?  Do we disassociate ourselves with the least, the lost and the last?

Consider all that Christ has done and then consider the mandate He has placed upon His people.  We are to be the most welcoming, the most loving, the best community.  Hear the call of Christ for you to play your part.

Are we people that model what God is like… a God who loves us, reconciles us and redeems us?  This is serious stuff.  We get one chance to live for Christ in the way that He would have.  We get one life for Him.