Church: God's design for caring community


Churches are really unique places aren't they? There are very few other places where you will find people from all sorts of backgrounds, ethnicities, ages, stages of life coming etc together regularly. I personally think the more varied a church is the more it is a wonderful picture of God's grace and design.

However, the diversity within churches does bring a unique challenge. Jesus prayed to His Father: "I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me" (John 17:22-23).

Reflecting on this is pretty humbling. Jesus is basically saying that the way in which we model unity speaks to the world the truth of the gospel. And how do we become unified? Through showing love and care to one another, choosing to lay down any petty squabbles in order to see the best in one another.

In a church full of variety there are going to be those that we are naturally drawn to, as well as others that we find difficult. I think part of God's wisdom in this is that our own rough edges and foibles, which are such a part of us we don't really see them, can be taken off as we rub up against those that are different to us. Indeed Proverbs 27:17 says "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another."

1 Corinthians 12 is the classic passage about the church being like a body, made up of various parts that are all vital. I love the directness contained within it: "The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I don't need you!' And the head cannot say to the feet, 'I don't need you!' On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable" (vv21-22).

It is interesting how the passage goes on to say: "God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it." (vv24-26).

That holds such a challenge within it – each of the parts should have equal concern for one another. Do we view another's hardship as our own? Do we seek to help and care for them in the way that we would care for ourselves if we were going through the same thing?

I realise that it is unrealistic to expect everyone to be able to enter into a deep relationship of love and care with every member of their church, as it would take more hours than there are in a week. However I do believe each one of us is called to care for others. How that works out practically in a church is down to each individual one.

Our church puts an emphasis on small groups and 'doing life together' in those. That doesn't negate the other relationships we have across the church with those that are probably more like us, but our small groups are made up of a cross-section of people. I think that's one of their strengths as it teaches us to love and care for those that perhaps we aren't naturally drawn to in a social setting.

If we are not caring for our own community within church well, not only are we hindering the way in which Jesus said the world would recognise Him, but we have little hope of being able to show genuine care to those in our local communities. And what about when our neighbours come into our church? If they don't see us caring for one another there won't be much to attract them to stay.