SORTING OUT BODY LIFE
BY: WAYNE JACOBSEN
Some email ‘conversations’ I have ask questions that I know many others are sorting through as well.
Here are a couple of recent exchanges:
J. from Singapore: I’m a Chinese Christian (and) I know it isn’t the will of the Lord that a Christian should live individually but rather to grow in a Christ-centered community. But what happens to one who has left the institution and cannot find a like-minded member? Won’t he or she be deprived of community living, even though he could be maintaining interpersonal fellowship on a one-to-one basis?
Wayne: While I agree with you that Father wants us all healthfully linked to his family, I don’t think that happens in the programs of most institutions. It may happen in spite of them or alongside them as people walk in love with each other, but the priorities of institutions and the priorities of family are at odds with each other.
I’ve noticed when God makes his people hungry for real relationships, he may call them to some time apart from others so that they can get the first relationship right – their life in Him. I am convinced that real community flows out of right relationship with Father and not that right relationship with Father flows out of right community. That’s why I’m not bothered if people seem to be alone for a time. (Of course some do this out of hurt and rebellion, but I still think God has a better chance to work with them as they are real about that, too.)
Often as God begins to set his followers into his body it begins with one-on-one fellowship. Then, as God links them to others something more visible or more intentional may arise. I think this is his process because He is the only one who can build his church. Unfortunately, many of us are trying to build the church in his name and it doesn’t work that way.
The church is growing into the fullest measure of the Son of God, but that is a relational reality. I see it all the time, even when I show up among a group of strangers and we discover how much we have in common because of his work in us. We don’t have to organize it or police it. I, too, tried to cram Scriptural priorities into institutional environments and found it only hurtful to people rather than helpful. But now that I’ve learned to apply them relationally, I find them far more effective. All we have to do is give up control, and realize the body is in Christ’s hands not ours and our institutions rarely reflect that reality since they often end up fragmenting the body that Father wants to bring together. But giving up control is the hardest thing to do.
J responds: I understand what you say. In fact, (as I have moved out of) the institutional church I feel I lack Christian fellowship. I do know that Christ is sufficient for me but it does bother me that He has given us the new commandment, which clearly presupposes the interaction of life in the Body. In the past month, I came across a small community, which seems to be institutional but it also seems there is a sense of genuineness about them. Now, I am not so sure if I should join them, so I’m proceeding cautiously. I do know, as you say, body life is possible even in the midst of an institution.
Wayne: You are right to proceed cautiously regarding this new group. That they seem genuine is a great thing. If Jesus leads you to do so, why don’t you hang out a bit with them and see how things develop? Of course, they will want you to ‘join’ and ‘get involved’, but you don’t have to. I think you’re in a great spot, though I know it may not feel that way to you. Here is where we really learn to trust Jesus – to keep us in his will and purpose even when we feel alone.
It is also a good time to learn to listen to him and let him teach you how he wants to join you to his body. Even though you may not know others yet who share your hunger, Jesus has some amazing ways to connect his body. Just listen as you walk down the street, ride mass transit or stand in line at stores. You might hear people near you talking about their faith in a way that draws you. Open a conversation with them and see how God leads. Jesus is building his church and you only need to stay with him as he connects you with it. I know it can be lonely at times, but use that time to be with him. He may want that now – more of you before he gives you away to more of his body.
J responds: Thank you, brother. Your sharing confirms my perspective. It remains for me a matter of walking by faith according to this perspective of the gospel. It doesn’t appear easy to apply it. There is a tight balance to maintain, especially because you do not want (people to misunderstand).
Wayne: Don’t worry about keeping a ‘tight balance.’ Instead just follow Jesus. Some will understand, some will not. He did not make it our responsibility to appeal to everyone, only to treat everyone with honesty in love mingled with a dose of gentleness and respect. God has far more options than you see yet. I think you might be trying so hard to solve your ‘church problem’, that you’re forgetting to enjoy your relationship with Father and whatever fellowship he provides for you. Yes, I enjoy gathering in a regular way with folks that want to share his life together, but I wouldn’t fill that void with people who are caught up in religion. It’s not the same. Don’t force an answer before his time.
J: Brother Wayne, you’re right! I felt this way shortly after I wrote you. I was made to realize that the Lord is building His church and I cannot build it for Him. I just have to learn to wait for God’s time.
F. from the U.K.: The journey we have been on has been long and somewhat difficult. We have tried to keep away from all the good ideas that flood our land, choosing instead to trust all to Father – much easier said than done. We have been through many changes as a group; we have enjoyed God in a new way, and have seen expressions of love and grace shining through in the most amazing ways. We have also had times of deep sadness. The difficult days have been around the things you write about in BodyLife, however from a direction that I have not read about yet in the things you have shared.
I read BodyLife and it is so helpful, the many letters you receive are obviously from good and honest people, but they present me with the reason for writing. I know at least 20 people who could write such letters, people who left their fellowships, who have found now a new sense of freedom and integrity that they couldn’t find elsewhere. The people I write about left our fellowship, some had been loved in practical ways, jobs had been found, finance given and all greatly loved. Yet when I read the letters in BodyLife I know that is what these people are saying, they now choose to meet in their new group adjacent to where they live. What I’m asking is when I read the letters published, what really happened? Does anybody really know – in their striking out, have they left behind unfinished issues? Those that I know, walked away without any discussion or sharing of hearts.
Wayne: I know the letters I receive are only part of a story. In many cases there are groups behind the story who feel as you do – that they loved them and that they were left with ‘unfinished business.’ That is sometimes necessary because those ‘in control’ don’t often want to hear from folks who are struggling with institutional priorities. In other cases as they discovered new things, they wrongly assumed that those they were leaving were ‘the enemy.’ The result is pain on all sides. As a mediator I am always looking to connect people, even through past hurts, to have a fresh chance at effective relationships.
A brother in deep frustration sighed out a few years ago to me, “Wayne, we have to figure out what it is that separates believers!” That statement has never been far from my thoughts since that time. He’s right. One of my struggles with institutional systems is that they often love well as long as people conform to the group, and treat harshly those who don’t. Of course I am not saying that is true of your group. But I do think part of the ‘programs’ and ‘shared power’ that many groups fall into will continue to produce difficult moments on both sides when people don’t fit in with the direction the group is headed. Wouldn’t it be great if we could affirm each other’s journeys and let people move as God leads them without so much pain and suspicion?
God has only one church in your community and whether people gather at the same place or not doesn’t change that reality. I suspect some of those people may be hungry for relationships to be rebuilt in love. It pains me to see the Body of Christ continually splintered and the damaged relationships that result. But that may be the unintended fruit of the systems in which we invest God’s revelation. Instead of freeing people to follow him, they feel forced to conform or leave.
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SORTING OUT BODY LIFE [Wayne Jacobsen] 1