Last Saturday night, I was having some serious fun – and I wasn’t with my church family. That’s not meant to be a criticism of St. John’s – just an expression of “wonder” that I could carve out some time to be with people who are not part of my church, and enjoy it. If you must know, my two daughters dance in a local hula dance troop, and I was koholo-ing with my oldest in a father-daughter number along with several other dads. The song was “Pineapple Princess” and let’s just say that only a dad and his daughter could do it justice with words like “Pineapple Princess, I love you you’re the sweetest girl I’ve seen / Someday we’re gonna marry and you’ll be my Pineapple Queen!” Practicing that song with Corynn has been a terrific bonding time; and an unintended benefit has been the opportunity to get to know some men who are not part of my “church circle.”
Perhaps you’re getting the idea that one of my biggest challenges is building relationships with those who are not members of my congregation. Admittedly -- so much of my time is spent studying and preparing for worship services, attending the steady stream of administrative and leadership meetings, engaging in pastoral care, and simply enjoying the rich friendships we’ve made with our St. John’s family -- it would be quite easy for me to go weeks without meaningful contact with the people in our larger community. That’s a problem…because I firmly believe Christ calls us to be invested in relationships with those who don’t know him and have no experience of his transforming grace.
No doubt Jesus’ original disciples experienced a similar tension. Theirs was a close-knit fellowship of men, and not a few women, who experienced a richness of life together. “Jesus called those whom he desired, to be with him” (Mark 3:13-15) in a deep and abiding friendship. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” Jesus said. “I do not call you servants any longer…but I have called you friends” (John 15: 15). He made it clear that his followers were his true family (Matthew 12: 46-50); and in calling together 12 men – mirroring the 12 sons of Jacob and the 12 tribes -- he was making clear his intention to reform the broken and scattered family of Israel. No, Jesus did not form a corporation or a political action committee or even a religious institution -- he formed a family.
That being said, I want to suggest that the very things we cherish about our own church family (the closeness, the honesty and forgiveness, our inter-generational and multi-ethnic variety) could actually be a hindrance to the mission of Christ….if we hold them too tightly. Perhaps you’ve caught yourself or heard someone else say, “You know, I just love this church because people know my name and I know theirs. If the church grew any larger…I’m afraid we would lose the closeness that we cherish.” I too can say that “I love this community, and those ten or one hundred people who know my name” -- but I have to be careful not to make that “community” into an idol. For Jesus called the twelve “to be with him,” and then sent them out. He called us to be a missional community… a community with a cause. The “us four and no more” attitude is what flash freezes our hearts, closes off the outside world, and remakes the church into a private club that is ours to enjoy at the expense of the seeking, lonely, and hurting people outside who need the love of God as much as we do.
Lately, I’m finding that to push myself beyond the walls of the church is not as difficult as it first would seem. Christ calls me to begin by being aware of where I already naturally connect with people in my everyday life – whether talking with a new friend at the local gym where I work out, extending myself in hospitality to one of my neighbors, having dinner with some international students from UCLA Village who want to practice English, or dancing “Pineapple Princess” with a bunch of crazy dads in my daughters’ hula dance troop. I'm thinking about a friend right now who loves to play the "cruise director" and invite friends over for a fun time of board games. What a great answer to the lonelines and isolation of a big city like Los Angeles, and what an opportunity for deep and meaningful friendship -- Jesus' style.
Building authentic friendships with those who are outside the church community…and including them intentionally in my own circle of relationships is where I need to begin. God will give you and me the words to speak as we live out a Christ-honoring life before others, for his desire is to welcome these new friends (like you and me) into his forever family. Now here are two questions for you: (1) In thinking through the idea of missional community, what would it mean for you to personally bring together believers and seekers in a circle of friendship, and so lay the foundation for the sharing of love, real life and faith in Christ? Or, (2) name 3 ways that your Lifegroup could become a 'community with a cause'?