Affinity is a strong attractor. Knowing that others will look, act, think, talk, or smell like you in a group provides a measure of safety and comfort. This is how most churches begin, and our experience in the past has been no exception. However, the challenge of being a missional community is that all ages, backgrounds, ethnicities, believer and un will be welcome and accepted. Two things (at least) will be true about all these people: none will be perfect and all are loved by God.
So instead of searching for safety and comfort among friends, we must face some daunting questions. How do we love like God loves? How do we respond to brokenness; visible and invisible? How do we become a community of healing, reconciliation, and forgiveness? A lot of Christians never think about these questions on a corporate level. This is the unfortunate consequence of normal church culture.
The water we swim in worships the twin gods of individualism and consumerism. Most people still see the church as a "vendor of religious goods and services". If that is true, then these are not questions for the average church-goer. They would naturally be taken care of by paid professionals or hard-core volunteers. But in a missional community, everyone has to play*. There is no clergy-laity divide. There are no passive observers. No one is exempt from considering the other.
As a result, we must be prepared for a healthy amount of disagreement over how to practically respond to these questions. Some will debate mercy versus justice. Others will consider unhealthy people a threat to their healthy relational boundaries. Many will wonder, how will I have time to add anything else to my life? These concerns must be named and wrestled with collectively. The alternative is to fall back to the safety net of affinity. Jim Van Yperen says in his book, Making Peace, "If we gather, as the world does, around values of individualism [and consumerism], then we form self-absorbed people whose empty lives demand a constant fight (or flight) for individual rights and needs. But if we gather in authentic community hungering and thirsting for righteousness, we have God's blessing and filling to grow through our differences."
In future posts I will continue to explore the makeup of a community that is becoming a loving, healing, restoring, and forgiving community. This is not the formula to quickly grow a church. But there are principles right out of scripture that do grow a healthy church in the long run.
* John Wimber is famous for saying, "Everyone gets to play," to show that ministry is not restricted to the professionals. I'd like to modify that slightly to "Everyone has to play." Not in a legalistic sense, but in order to communicate necessity. If the whole of the community isn't being constantly invited into the process of growing into their gifts and callings, everything I've talked about in this post will be severely restricted. There is always room for times of rest and healing. But it is often the case that the weakest has the most powerful gift to offer.