Something happened though to change my thinking on this question. My home state got hammered by massive amounts of flooding and there were towns that were literally cut off from everyone else around them. Granted, they didn't have to go a full week before supplies were flown in to them, but they did have a period of days where all they had to survive was what they had in town. Not only did they survive, they thrived under the pressure! You see, they discovered that when they worked together they had more than they thought! They discovered that they were more than the sum of their parts!
I am reminded of the early church portrayed in the Book of Acts. In chapter 2, starting at verse 44 (NRSV) it says:
"All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people."Now I'm not suggesting that you sell all your stuff and join a religious commune. No. What I am suggesting though is that you look at your church family and your community with a new set of eyes. We tend to look at things a piece at a time. We look at the parts rather than looking at the whole picture. The early church prospered and grew because they worked together as a whole. They had one goal-sharing the good news of Jesus! Everything they said, everything they did, how they lived, was focused on that goal. They discovered that they were more than the sum of their parts.
Let me go back to the example of the towns that were cut off by flooding. The first thing they did was meet together to figure out who was accounted for, who was not, who needed help and what did they need to focus on first. Some people had food in their freezers which they pulled out and donated for a big town barbecue so everyone would have something to eat. Some had heavy equipment which they put to work trying to rebuild roads so they could get things opened back up. Some had ATVs which they used to either rescue folks who were stranded or to try to find a way out of town to get supplies. Horses, propane cook stoves, generators-there were things in town that individually wouldn't make much of a dent but when pooled together would sustain them all until they could get help. And plain ole labor-people willing to pitch in to help clean up because the faster they could clean up, the more they could save and the faster they could rebuild. They were able to accomplish a lot more working together than working individually.
There's a lesson to be learned here. Churches want to "make an impact" they want to "do and be" but many times you have groups of individuals doing a little bit of this here and a little bit of that there in the hope that this will be "the next big thing". Not that these things are not good or important but where do they fit in the big picture? What part are they of the whole? When you look at your church in relation to your community what part do you play? Where do you fit in? What is your goal for your church and for your church within your community? What could you accomplish if your entire congregation worked together? What would you accomplish if your church worked with others in your community?
If we focus on the big picture rather than the individual parts I wonder how that would change what we do in our churches and I wonder how that would change how we interact within our communities? I wonder what kind of resources we would discover, that had always been there, but we didn't notice? I think about individuals sitting in our congregations who would like to find a way to actively participate but who think there is no where that they fit in within church ministry. Or, I think about people in the community who would like to find a way to help but they have no group to connect with. Can we take those parts and connect the dots and do something truly extraordinary?
One of the great things about the Methodist tradition is that work is not a dirty word. You don't do works because it somehow scores you angelic brownie points. You do work because it is an outward expression and demonstration of your faith. As the Apostle Paul said "Faith without works is dead." Wesley understood this, that's why he went to the prisons and brought not only faith, but food. That's why he set up Sunday School so children who worked in factories six days a week could not only hear the word but learn to read the word. He knew if a young person could read they stood a better chance of advancement-they stood a better chance of being able to have a better life. He understood the need to preach and teach but he also understood the value of the practical. He understood the importance of meeting someones needs.
So take some time today for some quiet reflection and really think about the big picture. Where do you fit in? Where does your church fit in? What can you do with others that would make a difference towards uplifting and sustaining your community? What can you accomplish if you work together with others?
There's your exciting thought adventure for today! Have fun!