Copy of Crime and Punishment: check
Black turtleneck sweater: check
Black beret: check
Long macchiato (topped up): check
I am now ready to church plant with, and hopefully reach out to, my favourite community (hip, urban, arty types surely? – Ed) with the gospel message. Only trouble is that’s not the community that I have to work with and it’s certainly not the one I do life among. In fact my community is pretty much the opposite of that. So I now face a dilemma. Do I keep scanning vainly for the community I want, or blame the one I have for not being what I want them to be. Perhaps I could even blame God! Or do I put aside my wants and work with and each out to the community that I already have.
US church researcher Ed Stetzer labels this desire “Community Lust”. And like all lust, Community Lust will lead you away from what is good and true, and fixate you on the misguided hope that “it”, whatever “it” is, will satisfy your desires.
So I like to daydream? What’s wrong with that? Try these for starters:
1: Community Lust dishonours the body (the body of Christ, that is). God is bringing a wide range of people together in the one body – the church. While this is obvious in the macro-picture of the global gospel and the church universal, it should be reflected in the micro-picture of the local gospel and the visible church. It is too precious a reality to allow ourselves to crave a more airbrushed version in which we gather the people just like us. That’s not to say that this won’t naturally happen, but supernaturally leaders need to be pushing against this tendency to uniformity, rather than promoting it.
2.Community Lust distracts the worker. God could be putting people in front of our faces to share life and the gospel with, but if we are committed to a certain type/demographic/social set we can miss it. It’s a little like the bloke scanning the room for the right woman at a party, and missing the quality lady standing right in front of him who doesn’t meet his lofty (and deserved!) criteria. The happy ending, of course, is that he eventually realises his stupidity and the relationship blossoms into something deeper and richer than he could ever have imagined. Well just imagine that happening in church, where people of all backgrounds and experiences share a love that transcends all commonalities except for the gospel!
3. Community Lust leads to dissatisfaction. It’s easy to resent people who are not behaving the way we want them to, especially when we feel have little in common with them socially or culturally. Church planting is hard work and resentments come easily when we view people from the jaundiced perspective of not having “anyone like us” to hang out with and talk about OUR favourite past-times etc.
The solution to Community Lust is not a cold shower, but a warm regard for how the church is displaying the manifold wisdom of God to the principalities and powers (Ephesians 3:10-11). Among other things, those principalities and powers promote selfishness, self-focus, and self-regard. And of course, the problem with “self” is that it wants everything (and everyone) to reflect itself back to itself! This is most obviously seen in the tribalism that fractures our society, driving suspicion and mistrust of anyone “not like us”. Let’s break the mould and see how Jesus – the one who took on the likeness of sinful flesh in the biggest cultural leap ever – is bringing a great multitude together from every tribe, tongue and nation (Rev 7). God’s future is far more diverse than Western society’s commitment to multiculturalism could ever imagine.
Now just where did I put my copy of Anna Karenina...?