Community by Laurence Singlehurst
Imagine a street of a 100 people with no locked doors. People able to walk in and out of each others' houses without any fear of anything being stolen or removed. When anyone is in need, somebody from the street helps and cares for the person in need. Nobody on the street feels isolated or lonely. All feel they are a part of the community and have a contribution to make.
A hopelessly romantic picture? It can never be achieved? Or a possibility? The fact is many streets in our nation were once like this. There were communities of people where there was interaction, care and concern far beyond anything most of us are experiencing now. Today, most of us live in streets where the following scenario could happen.
The man at No 22 has a neighbour who lives across the street. He doesn't speak to him very often but waves to him on a regular basis. Our friend greets his neighbour whom he has not spoken to for about a year, smiles, asks how he is and adds, in the way that one normally does, 'How's your wife?'. The person from across the street goes quiet, large tears form in his eyes and fall gently to the ground. Our friend realises that something is wrong. The neighbour looks up and replies, 'Don't you know?'. 'Know what?', says our hero. 'Know that my wife died a year ago. In fact, she dropped dead just outside your house one morning'. Our hero is shocked and mortified and when he talks to his other neighbours realises that actually none of them knew that the woman had died. 'How could this be?', you might ask. Is this story true-or just an illustration? Well, it is true, and I can absolutely vouch for the story's authenticity-because it happened to me. I was the unknowing man at number 22.
This illustrates the sad decline of community within our society. We are becoming more and more individualised. Community is no longer geographical. If there is community at all, it is made up by an association, in terms of a like-mindedness. This is not always bad but it is symptomatic that the whole sense of people belonging, sharing and caring is slowly ebbing out of our society.
We need something new. Jesus said that by the love we have for one another, people will know that we belong to Him. In other words, community is part of the Christian gospel. As Christians love and care for one another and demonstrate the dynamic of community, this will be a prophetic picture for a wider society-a convincing argument that God exists and a challenge that we all need to live this way.
In our cells, and out of our cells, we want to model community and create community, starting with a community of Christians. We could call this a pseudo-community-a group of nine or ten Christians who learn what sacrificial love is really about. It starts with one or two people who have learned to follow the commands of Jesus, who said, 'He who seeks to find his life will lose it but he who loses his life for my sake will find it'. As two or three people express sacrificial love to other cell members, lay down their time, give of their resources-be it energy or money-and demonstrate a Christian dynamic of love, others will enter in and follow the example. They too will begin to lay down their lives for one another. Hence community is entered into. It is not a list of ideas-share your lawnmower, do this, do that. All of those things may be right but the foundation is following the example of Christ and having Christ in us.
We need to keep reminding ourselves that our cells are not just a meeting where we sit down, go through a wonderful structure and have a good time together. We want to earth the reality of this in our everyday lives.
Some of you will be in a geographical cell where you are neighbours and there is the ability and opportunity to care for one another in practical ways-to share lawnmowers, help one another with children, with pain, good and bad times. For others the cell may be made up of a homogeneous group spread over a wider geographical area and this is difficult. However difficult it may be, we have to face the reality that what happens in our meetings must be rooted in day to day lives. Wherever possible if we pray for someone, we need to ask ourselves how this prayer can be made visible in the week. How can I show the person that the prayer I have prayed for them is also matched by the life I want to live? Maybe it's a phone call, a card, dropping round to see them-even if it is a twenty-minute journey.
Of course, our goal in building community must extend beyond those already in our churches. We need to be reaching out to those not yet Christians and modelling something for them that they can see and experience-and in time enter into themselves. In this issue of Cell Church UK we look at some practical ways of applying Community values in our Witness.
In our cells, let us continue to create communities that people can enter into, caring for one another in sacrificial love, being honest with one another (for example in our 'Welcome' times). Let us face the challenge of building bigger communities together, and following the example of Jesus.