What we see in the Bible is that church members are actually to take responsibility for the life, health, and even the evangelization that happens through the local church. How does that happen? Biblically, it happens through instruction and imitation.
The elders are to instruct formally. Mature members are to instruct and teach informally. And all should be leading by imitation. Here’s what I mean by imitation. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, the Apostle Paul says, “Imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.”
Collin Marshall, in Trellis and the Vine, says this: “The relational nature of training means that the best training will often occur by osmosis rather than formal instruction. It will be caught as much as it is taught. Trainees will end up resembling their trainers, much as children turn out like their parents.”
In order to train by osmosis, we actually need to spend lots of time with each other:
- The easier it is to walk to the store together, the more training will happen by imitation.
- The more you can linger before and after a church service, the more training will happen by imitation.
- The more you bump into each other in the neighborhood, the more training will happen by imitation.
- The more you have impromptu meals together, the more training will happen by imitation.
- The more you randomly meet for prayer before work, the more training will happen by imitation.
The most common sense advice I can think of for any church member at any church is simply this: When you live near your church and other church members, the more training will happen by imitation.
I never personally thought of the benefits of living near one’s church until I experienced it myself. When my wife and I were first married, we lived in a small town on the Eastern Shore called Greensboro, MD. We happened to live with church members to our right and to our left. During those five years, I spent hours and hours of unplanned time with my neighbors’ kids. I’d be grilling on my porch and one of the kids would come over and we’d talk about sports, school, and the Bible.
Jess and I began eating almost every night of the week with Clif and Mary who lived to the left of us. Sometimes they’d bring over food, sometimes we’d take food over to their house. We ended up starting a weekly Bible study with a few others who lived up the street. None of it was planned. But God used it for thousands of discipleship opportunities.
My concern isn’t idyllic friendship. Honestly, sometimes, we wished we lived on our own somewhere. Sometimes, dealing with other people’s problems became exhausting. But it was worth it. Why? Because we’re the church. As much as we’re called to rejoice with those who rejoice, we’re called to bear one another’s burdens and sorrows.
In the Bible, I’ve counted at least 35 “one anothers”. Commands to regular church members on how to live with one another in the church. Just listen to some of these:
- Love one another (John 13:34)
- Give preference to one another in honor (Rom. 12:10)
- Be devoted to one another in love (Rom. 12:10)
- Through love, serve one another (Gal. 5:13)
- Bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2)
- Speak truth to one another (Eph. 4:25)
- Comfort one another concerning the resurrection (1 Thess. 4:18)
- Encourage and build up one another (1 Thess. 5:11)
- Seek good for one another, and don’t repay evil for evil (1 Thess. 5:15)
- Stir up one another to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24)
- Confess sins to one another (James 5:16)
- Pray for one another (James 5:16)
- Gently, patiently tolerate one another (Eph. 4:2)
- Be hospitable to one another (1 Pet. 4:9)
How would a strategy of intentionally living near each other simply help us to better fulfill some of these commands?
Church at the Center
Friends, the “individual” is not paramount. The safety and goods of the world are not paramount. What is at the center of our lives? It’s the church.
I think of the person who comes to Jesus from the streets. They’ve walked away from everything they know. They’ve walked away from gangs and drugs and the corner. They’ve had to lose everything they know in this world. In Mark 10:30, Jesus says it’s worth it. And he says there is no one who loses in this world who “will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.”
What does he mean by 100 houses and 100 brothers and 100 sisters and 100 mothers in this life? He’s referencing the church. He’s saying, you’ve got a whole community of people here who will share their lives with you.
Church members from around the world, let me ask this question—Is that true for your church? Is your church a place where new believers can experience the fullness of this ‘one another’ community? Someone recently told me that when they were trained to de-radicalize terrorists, the most important thing was to offer belonging, purpose, and identity. Same goes for any new believer.
That’s the vision of the church. And that’s my heart for intentionally orienting our lives around the church. For the glory of God, and the good of man.
This is the third in a series of articles devoted to exploring the strategy of living and remaining near your church. You can read part one here and part two here.