Tuesday Re-mix –
Your church is not just comprised of people. It is comprised of relationships among those people. That’s an important distinction. It is the difference between a pile of bricks and a building made with those bricks. It is the difference between a jumbled wad of thread and a fabric woven with that thread. It is not just the people who make up the church…it is the specific ways in which those people relate to one another that either make them a New Testament church or not. More specifically, it is the Spirit of God living in those people and moving them into relationships with each other which make them a church.
I often describe the church as a fabric. Each of us is a single thread in that fabric. Every place my “thread” touches another “thread” is a relationship. And all of those relationships, together, form my local congregation.
There are always things putting pressure on that fabric…weighty objects (“issues”) which God permits to fall into the fabric of your church. Some of those issues are heavy and others are pretty light. But when one of those issues tears the fabric, it is not just a function of the weight of the issue. It is a function of the strength of the fabric. Churches which teach and practice Biblical interpersonal relationships constitute strong fabrics. They can handle lots of challenges. But churches who do not teach good relationships will eventually become littered with broken or damaged relationships, i.e., weak fabric. And where the fabric is weak enough, it doesn’t take much to tear it wide open.
Another metaphor that works here is thinking of your “fabric” as a latex balloon. When you inflate it and then hold it up to the light, you can actually see where the latex is thicker in some places and thinner in others. As you begin to put more and more air into the balloon, you can actually predict where it will most likely burst first, because the latex is thin in those places. Churches are the same. Where there are no relationships in place (or where there are damaged relationships), that is where the break will happen first, just as soon as there is an issue to put pressure on those places.
For example, if there are no relationships between generations in your church (i.e., the older generation and the younger generation don’t mix much), then a generation-oriented issue (such as music in worship) could easily divide that church. On the other hand, where those relationships are in place and are strong, that church will not be bothered much by that kind of issue.
My co-teacher in this ministry, Dr. Ann Farris, has a slightly different take on this “fabric of the church” metaphor. She thinks of the church as a patchwork quilt, a “mosaic” of sorts, with each of us representing a unique element in that quilt but one which is necessarily connected to all the others. Again, without the relationships, i.e., the connections between us, we are little more than a pile of cloth squares. But as the Spirit of God joins us together and we learn our relationships with one another, we become a church. I like this metaphor, because it reminds us that we each bring something unique to the table in the way of Spiritual gifts and preferences. We each have a certain beauty which we add to the larger work, but we still must have strong relationships, strong connections to the others for all the reasons I mentioned above.
With either illustration, the point is clear. The church is much more than just a collection of people. It is the relationships among those people. Those relationships will dictate the effectiveness of that church and its mission. Is it any wonder, then, that Jesus’ prayer for us in John 17 was not just that many people would come to believe, but that those people would have unity with each other?
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35