If you could picture the ideal church community, what would it look like? Maybe that picture includes simple conveniences – a handy location, comfortable seats, good coffee. Going deeper, perhaps it includes captivating musical worship, compelling preaching, and a great children’s programme. If we’re honest, we’d also want that combination of close relationships with minimal cost – friendships that don’t hurt or demand too much.
When people think about the ideal church, they often look back to the early church. We’ll see this Sunday a beautiful picture of this Christian community in the Book of Acts. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship… They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42, 46-47).
That’s a wonderful picture of church: learning and connectedness, joy and praise, harmony and growth. We can learn a lot from the early church about the marks of authentic Christian community. There wasn’t just gospel declaration, there was gospel demonstration; gospel teaching and gospel culture; a life changing message and lives changed by that message.
Of course, the early Christian church was far from perfect. It was full of people, imperfect people with imperfect relationships. Despite this ideal picture, there would have been misunderstandings and disagreements, people being hurt, and forgiveness being sought.
The reality is that there’s no ideal church. St Andrew’s is far from the ideal church. We’re all people who aren’t yet the finished product. That means being part of our community involves personal cost. It means persevering in relationships that are sometimes difficult. It means investing time and effort in getting involved in people’s lives and serving them. Christian community can be compared to a gem tumbler. Just as rough stones are put in a tumbler and knocked around to make them more beautiful, so it is with us. As we get involved in one another’s lives, God changes us and makes us more beautiful.
So, what’s your ideal picture of church? In your picture, can you see a group of imperfect people trying to follow a perfect Saviour? Can you see yourself in that picture, an imperfect person trying to get to know people, serving them, persevering with them, and loving them? If so, you’re becoming more and more the person that God wants you to be.