When we are showing our neighbourhood to visitors we see it with different eyes. Features to which I normally pay no attention, having become accustomed to them, grab my attention again when I am interpreting them to others. So when Simeon, Heather and Sophie were here from Minnesota, during a walk to the park, I noticed again some of the unique traits of Vanier, the part of Ottawa where I live.
To many Ottawa residents, the name Vanier conjures up an image of a neighbourhood infested with drugs, prostitution and run-down properties. However our community recently won an award from the Association of Police Chiefs of Ontario in recognition of the turnaround that has resulted from a concerted effort over the past several years by a coalition of residents and community groups. Vanier today is a much more positive place than it was a few years ago.
Still, on our walk I was struck again by the diversity of Vanier. One can turn a corner and see a ramshackle property with garbage in the yard or a junky old car in the laneway, side-by-side with a beautifully maintained little gem of a home. Turn yet another corner and you may see a whole string of properties that are run-down and somewhat depressing, and then as you walk on a little farther, you come to an entire block of well-maintained, tidy properties, where it seems that the entire neighbourhood has come together in a more united approach. As a case in point, our neighbours on Shakespeare street, one block from our home, are currently organizing their second annual block party, and most of the residents have come together in an effort to plan the celebration. They want their block to be a positive, inviting place to live.
As I was reflecting on this I felt the Holy Spirit speak to me about the church, and specifically about City Church, the fellowship that Marion and I call home. For the past two-and-a-half years, Marion and I have been endeavouring to encourage the development of Christian community in City Church through home groups. We accepted responsibility for this area of church life because we believe that Christian community is absolutely crucial to developing a healthy church. In fact, without Christian community we can hardly call ourselves a church at all. The reality is that we can’t have a significant level of relationship with everyone in the church, but it is possible for us to form significant relationships with a few people in a home group, and this can become a place where we encourage each other, where we pray together, where disciples are made as we learn to grow in faith and share our faith with others, where we become more like Jesus as we help one another overcome old ways and adopt the new ways of the Kingdom.
Without small group fellowship, in many ways our church life will look something like the neighbourhoods I described where one home is run-down and ramshackle while the next one is tidy and well-maintained. Many of those in our church fellowship are walking alone, with no-one to encourage them beyond superficial words of greeting on a Sunday (“How are you? Oh, I’m fine – everything’s good”). When you take the time to build trust and dig a little deeper, you discover that some of these precious people for whom Jesus died are not doing very well – their lives are not very well cared-for, not in very good shape. Side by side with them on a Sunday morning may be others whose lives are in pretty good shape. But they often have no real relationship with the people in the next seat or the next row; they are basically isolated from one another.
This is not the way it is meant to be! In Acts 2:42-47 we read a description of a church in a state of revival, and one of the hallmarks of this church was that they placed a priority on fellowship in homes. In fact, throughout the New Testament we read of believers meeting in homes; most of the churches described in the New Testament letters were probably home-based churches, although public meetings for teaching and preaching were also held. My point is simply this. Church was never meant to be a meeting in a building with people you hardly know. We were never meant to walk alone, managing life’s problems and struggles on our own. All of us need community, for a whole host of reasons. We will never effectively fulfil the Great Commission to share the gospel with the world unless we are walking out the Great Commandment of love for one another, as a practical outworking of our love for God.
Many say they are too busy to be part of a home group. I say this is the devil’s lie, pure and simple. It is true that the pace of life in our society puts much pressure on us. However it’s also true that we we make time for what is most important to us. The reality is that we cannot afford to be without fellowship. When we are part of a healthy home fellowship we have a context in which we can grow and help others to grow, and a place to invite our neighbours and friends who are hungry for God and need to know some genuine followers of Christ. I can’t imagine going through life without this. If you are one of those followers of Christ who has not been making time for a home fellowship, please take some time to read the New Testament with fresh eyes, asking the Lord to give you His perspective on the priority of community. You may be surprised at what He shows you.