Posted by: Postordinandy | August 20, 2010

Changing as a community

Our final engagement with Tim Chester’s book on change found us looking at a chapter entitled “how can we support each other in change?

We looked at Ephesians chapter 4 and were reminded that it was written to a community, rather than an individual. This is a key point, often subconsciously neglected by many of us as we engage with the Bible. It is so tempting to read the pastoral letters in particular as some form of ‘self-help’ guide, and how we love them; but, mostly, these letters were written to one or more church communities – to be read and mulled over corporately.

This emphasis on the communal over the individual is one we must not loose site of. It is quite right that as individuals we examine our inner motives, strengths and weaknesses, and put as much effort as we can into changing from what we are to what we desire to be. But, God has always principally been a God of the people rather than simply God of a person – something we perhaps are prone to forget in our modern, privatized, lives.

So, our response to sin and weakness in our own lives must always have a corporate element to it – change as a community project/venture is change that has some hope of being sustainable. Change that is only individual will always be fragile, and ever flirting with denial. Knowledge of this is one of the reasons that organisations such as AA stress the corporately accountable nature of their endeavours.

There are other reasons that we must be honest with each other. Concealed sin often has consequences for not just those immediately affected (perpetrator and any victim), but also for the wider community. See the story of Achan‘s stealing after the fall of Jericho. Perhaps the consequences of our own sinfulness will not be so dramatic, but when we try to actively deny the reality of sin in our lives our hearts become hard, and our actions reflect our inner pride.

The genius and grace of God is that He loves, interacts with, and works in and through all people: including the awkward, difficult, sinful, annoying and foolish.

Tim Chester uses the picture of a bag of stones to illustrate the church’s communal nature:

Imagine a strong bag, full of stones of different sizes and shapes. Now imagine taking that bag in your hand and shaking the stones around. Sparks may fly, shards may fall off, much noise and discomfort may take place – but, after enough time, the result is that each individual stone is made smooth as it bashes and bounces off the others.

Change does take time. It is a daily and conscious activity. Each of us needs others to help us see where we need to change, and sometimes to show us how such change is possible. God has given us each other, to live as a community of grace, so that this change is not just possible but (with His help) probable – just not as instant as perhaps we would like it to be.

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Responses

  1. Our expectations of self-reliance, both in ourselves and in everyone around us, is so ingrained in our current society. The story of the mother who died, leaving her disabled daughter to starve to death, is horrific but all too understandable. Asking for help is seen as such a bad thing – admitting weaknesses. We have to show people that it’s ok to need each other.
    It does seem to be a pattern that the less contact people have with others, the less likely it is that they want to change – or see any need to. Gran Torino is a great film to see how we can change simply through community.

    • Thanks Jo.

      I’m increasingly of the opinion that our, ahem, ‘reliance on self-reliance’ is a key reason for the church’s apparent lack of impact on the wider community in which it serves.
      1) From the outside: people do not see (or are unwilling to readily admit to seeing, anyway) the need to make themselves accountable to and for others, for the benefit of all. Certainly many struggle with the idea of making oneself accountable to God in any way.
      2) From the inside: like it or not, explain it or otherwise, the church is seen as a community of people who think that they are in the right, and others are in the wrong. Until we can find ways of being genuine and honest with those who do not yet know Jesus about how hard life actually is (sometimes/often), we are very unlikely to be the community that people turn to for help in any way.


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