How do you define church?
We define it as a local church is a community of believers whose lives depend upon each other and interact with each other through food, relationship, and sharing of life for the advancement of the kingdom of God. At Oak Grove we are striving to be Gospel-oriented, mission-driven, and community-oriented New Testament Church.
To be Gospel-orientated means that the entire focus of your life is on the Gospel. Why is this to be the perspective from which we live? The answer is because the Gospel addresses everything about your life—every aspect, every perspective. The church springs from and is birthed by the Gospel and by the Gospel it is sustained. It is through the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ that it grows into maturity.
We believe the Gospel addresses every issue, every challenge, every pain, and every problem of life, and shows us how to navigate through it all. Therefore, if our church is going to grow into the likeness of Jesus we must learn to take the Gospel and apply it to a person’s problem or pain or challenge. We have to learn to think that way ourselves; it begins with you and me. My problems, my opportunities, my challenges, my blessings, I need to see them through the lens of Gospel truth. I am to receive everything, whether it is pain or prosperity, blessing or obstacle, through the filter of the Gospel because the Gospel addresses all of those things.
When we become Gospel-orientated people we grow and encourage and edify one another. This is so contrary to the concept of church today. What we experience on a Sunday morning should be nothing more than an overflow of what you and I are experiencing Monday through Saturday. It should not be a place where we get revived, renewed, or reinvigorated for the workweek. What should be happening, if you are a temple of the Spirit and you are worshiping God wherever you are, is that all of your life has a Gospel-orientation. Meaning all of your life is lived in light of the death and resurrection of Christ. Having a Gospel orientation impacts our everyday lives and the life of this body.
Here are the foundational principles behind our Gospel Life Community Groups:
I. Redefining Church as Community-Centered
Instead of thinking of ourselves as individual members of the church, we are to think of ourselves as a whole, as a unit. This is what Paul is trying to say to the Corinthians and to our church. Yes, you’re many, yes, you’re individuals, but you come together to support something greater than you, the whole, the unit, the church, the body of Jesus Christ. Look at how many times he uses those words in these verses.
For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free–and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. 14 For in fact the body is not one member but many. (1 Corinthians 12:12-14)
The concept of the local church from the Apostle Paul, whether it’s in Corinth or Paducah or at Oak Grove Baptist church, is that we come together collectively as individuals, but not only individuals; we are part of a collective whole, a unit called the church, a living organism. That living organism is something that works in perfect harmony and synchronization for a greater purpose than just surviving life. That’s the local church and that’s what a community does. It is a mutual support of one another for a larger more distinct purpose than just each other individually.
The body of Christ is an amazing collection of many parts, moving in an incredible synchronization that becomes the same as if Jesus were here, on the earth, as He once was. You see, even though you have Jesus in you and He can live His life through you, the world will not see what Jesus looks like through only one person. That’s not possible. It’s not possible for one person to have all the character traits of our Lord and all the gifts of the Spirit. Not even the Apostle Paul could do that. In God’s design, He took many, whom He has gifted differently, and brings them together in a cohesion that makes one. So now as the world watches this body interact and depend on one another they see what Jesus looks like in a better, fuller, more complete way.
What does the community do to make that happen? It does certain things together.
II. The Practices of Community
You have to go to Acts 2 to see this. In Acts 2 starting in verse 42 you see how the community functions and how they interact and what they share.
A. Hearing God’s Word.
“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship” (v. 42)
The early Christians came together and heard the Word preached and taught. But this was not the sum total of what the church does and yet we’ve made it to be so. It’s important that the Word of God be central, we’re not arguing that; it’s important we come together on a regular basis and let someone gifted in preaching and teaching do that so we can be instructed in the Word of God. The Word of God is Jesus, it is Christ, and as you’re being taught, the Spirit of God uses that, applies it to your life, and your life is advanced because of it. It’s very important we do that, but it’s not all the early church did. So why is it basically all we do? We come around and let people teach us and preach to us but that’s not all of church life. That’s a very small part. Listen to what else they did.
B. Eating Together.
“. . . in the breaking of bread” (v. 42)
“. . . and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart” (v. 46)
They ate together. This is extremely important. The Holy Spirit mentions this specifically. If you remember a few months ago I dwelt on this quite a bit because eating together is huge in the life of community. I even gave you a theology of food. There is something about eating together that brings people’s lives together. It just does.
When two nations are striving or have disagreements what do they often do? They come together, have counsel meetings, summit meetings, and often during those meetings are times when the leaders eat together. They schedule this because there is something about eating together that is having something in common. It relaxes people and opens people to respond and receive, to give and take.
C. Praying Together.
“. . .and in prayers.” (v. 42)
They didn’t just pray for each other in their individual homes, they came together and prayed and laid hands on one another. They prayed and wept and claimed God’s promises together. They prayed together.
D. Sharing Material Goods.
“Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.” (vs. 44-45)
They shared life’s resources. How do you do that if you’re not interacting with each other, knowing what the other needs? Do you know the needs of the people seated around you? Maybe you have something someone needs and maybe you need it too or maybe you’re willing to sacrifice because that’s what a community of believers does. They live their lives not for themselves but for the welfare of one another. Their attention is not on their welfare but on the welfare of the other. This is the purpose of community: sharing.
E. “Hanging Out.”
They hung out together.
“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship.” (v. 42)
“So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house.” (v. 46)
What did they do? They just hung out with one another. They got into each other’s lives. Oh, that sounds scary, doesn’t it? I don’t want anybody messing around in my life. I don’t want anybody tinkering with it, I don’t want anybody examining it, no, I’m not into that. Just give me a good worship service, preach to me, I’ll listen and take it and I’ll go home and try to put it into practice.
That’s not the early church and it’s not the latter church. The latter church has to be like the early church in spirit and in practice, if we are to experience the same Jesus they experienced.
Why must we be a community, if we are to be a church?
You and I are not a real church unless we are first a community. It doesn’t matter what we have come to believe church is or how we have come to define it. We’re not talking about our definitions of church we’re talking about Jesus’—He’s the one who died for it so He gets to define it. There is no such thing as being a legitimate church unless there is a legitimate community because church is a community. How do we answer this question, why must we be a community, if we are to be a church?
1. One person cannot be Christ on the earth.
You cannot be all this world needs. The infinite God dwells within you but you’re not infinite and therefore your expression of His life will not be infinite either. It takes a collective group, the many parts coming together, so that this area might get a glimpse of what Jesus does as we interact with one another.
2. It takes more than one to demonstrate and display love.
You may be the most loving person in the entire world but if there were no one to love no one would know how loving you are. God has designed a body so that they can interact one with another so the world can see what the community of Christ looks like. “This is what the community of faith is like, this is what fellowship with Jesus is like.” You say, “I can be loving to the sinner.” Yes, you can. But notice what Jesus said, “By this all men shall know you are My disciples, in that you love one another.” We are commanded to love the unlovable but you can’t do it alone. Jesus tied it to the community.
When the community is operating as Jesus defined it in this interdependency, sharing and caring one for another, seeing the love of Christ displayed to those who don’t always deserve it, there is something evangelistic that takes place. So much so that Jesus would say this would be the spearhead of His church’s evangelism. I believe one of the reasons we’re not seeing many people converted is because we are not demonstrating this kind of love before them so they can see it. I’m convinced that if they saw the love of Christ that we have for one another they would be saved, we’re just not together enough to demonstrate it. They have no idea of what the community of faith is really like, but if they could see it some would want it, they would even die for it. They’re starving for it they just don’t believe it exists.
3. The life of the Spirit works through the gifts of the Spirit.
My second question is this, why must you be part of the community if you are to be a Christian?
I do not mean that you’re not a Christian if you’re not in a community of faith in a local church, but I am saying that you cannot live the Christian life, the life Jesus died and rose again to give you, without other believers. It’s impossible. You say, “What about those in prison or solitary confinement for their faith?” That’s the exception not the rule and God has special grace for those situations but even then, in those places, they would delight to have another brother or sister. Tell me they wouldn’t think their life had been blessed immensely if they could be with other Christians in fellowship. So, yes, while you can be a Christian without a local church, you cannot be a growing, thriving, successful Christian without a community with mutual dependency. Jesus designed it that way and you cannot break His mold and thrive. I’ll give you four reasons we need community to thrive.
1. To solve the loneliness issue.
Have you ever heard the cliché, “Alone in a crowd”? We all experience loneliness to one degree or another so that even in a crowded room we can feel alone, but when you are sharing your life and there is an interdependency and fulfillment that is a solution for the loneliness problem. Are you lonely? Then you need to find some brothers and sisters and just say, “You need to get in my life and I need to get in yours because this is not working.”
2. To practice self-sacrifice and love for others.
How can you practice self-sacrifice without sacrificing yourself for someone else’s good?
3. To promote edification in others.
Once again, the whole issue is not coming here and as individuals we get what we want and go home (which is the normal way of thinking about church). No, you are a part of something bigger than your own life. You come here to sacrifice yourself for the well being and good of the whole body. We typically think quite opposite. We want the church to thrive and be successful because it will be better for me.
I know there is not a person in this room who is truly a Christian that does not want Oak Grove Baptist to thrive and be a vibrant church for our Lord. But there are some of us in this room, including me, who don’t always know how to get there because we’ve never been in that kind of environment. We’ve been in traditional churches all of our lives. Churches that go through the motions of what is expected but never get to the heart of what God intended. They might come up with different programs and have different names and labels but it ends up being the same thing, just repackaged. When was the last time you were in such a community of believers as I’ve described to you, where people knew you at your worst and they still loved you? And you knew them at their worst and you didn’t give up on them?
Typically our whole concept of church is this, if our church would grow we would have more people and resources. Maybe then we could have a stronger children’s ministry or a greater youth department. Maybe we could even have women’s ministries or men’s ministries. Maybe we could even have a softball team. If we had more people we could do more things and that would be wonderful for my family. This would be great resources for me. Maybe we could even have a school or at least a preschool. That would be great for our young parents. So, yeah, let’s see our church grow because the bigger it gets the more things that are available.
That’s exactly the same concept the world has.
I remember when the first Wal-Mart came to Springfield, Missouri. We had department stores, we had hardware stores and clothing stores and grocery stores, but here came this big building and now a lot of what those stores offered was in one place. Clothing, toys, the dime stores, the Woolworths, it was all there in one location! But what happened when the Super Wal-Mart came? Now you had groceries and automotive, you had everything, and the regular Walmart died. Why? Because people wanted to go where it was bigger and there was more resources.
They didn’t go to the Super Wal-Mart because they were interested in contributing to its cause, they contributed to Wal-Mart because it had what they wanted or needed. And that mentality has shifted to the church.
People are going from one place to another trying to find what’s best for them. God designed the church for you to come here to find out what’s best for the body, to find out who needs what you are gifted in and what you possess so that you might give it like Jesus, self-sacrificially. That’s community!
4. To promote edification in you.
This is not about you sacrificing to your own neglect and nobody cares about you. The more you give the more you will receive. The more you put the spiritual progress of a suffering brother and sister ahead of yours, your spiritual progress will always be addressed. God will make sure of it. The body is designed for it. Listen to me. My thumb is a part of this body. It helps to make my body do and function as God designed. But I don’t need my thumb to live. I don’t want to be without it but if it has to be I can. But this thumb cannot live without me. Without the thumb I’m going to be limited in my gripping abilities, but I can still grip, maybe not as good, but it can happen. But without me, the finger has no hope of existence.
This is the body. This is what our text is telling us. “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.” You are baptized into one body so you might thrive as you give your functionality to the body. When you do that, you will always be edified.
The Bible alone cannot transform you. It will never transform you. Hearing sermons will not transform you. Being taught will not transform you. Now God uses the Word, He only uses the Word by the Spirit to transform us, but God intended that Word to be displayed in a community of love. Speaking the truth in love. When you just have truth after truth after truth without it being demonstrated and being backed up by love just beats you up. That’s all it can do. That’s all it will ever do. But when that truth is given in a community that truly loves you, the power to transform is amazing.
We would like to invite you to be a part of this transformational love by joining us as we seek to share the Gospel in Word and demonstration through living in community with others.
This post was taken from the sermon – The Necessity for Community preached by Brother S. Michael Durham at Oak Grove Baptist Church.