Build a Community, Not Just a Church

Build a Community, Not Just a Church

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Welcome to The Daily Prayer Team messages, each day includes a passage of scripture, a reflection and a prayer. Sponsored by Saint John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.

For a whole year they met with the church, and taught a large company of people; and in Antioch the disciples were for the first time called Christians. Acts 11:26

It is a blessing that the church I serve presently in Tampa has a large physical plant.  We have out church, a beautiful gymnasium/hall, a huge kitchen, an office building, a school building, a soccer field and parking lots.  If someone came on our property, they might be wowed by our facilities.  A closer look at the facilities, however, shows a church that is presently too small for our congregation (a good problem—the church is over capacity most Sundays), not enough parking (because of the large number of people who attend), and a school we need to rent because we have a large mortgage to pay off.  This is a source of frustration at times to our community and to me.

However, the “community” aspect of the church is much more than the physical plant.  Imagine if our church was much bigger but empty on Sundays.  Imagine if we bought more land and made bigger parking lots that were empty.  So the end point of the community is not the kind of facilities the community has, but the kind of community that it is.  That doesn’t mean that the facilities are not important or necessary.  It means, however, that we don’t obsess about them to the exclusion of a sense of community.  I’d rather have meager facilities and a great “community” than fantastic facilities with no sense of “community.”

Going back to something we touched on at the beginning of this series, the word “ekklesia” is used 113 times in the New Testament.  This is the Greek word that we translate as “church.”  However, each time the word “ekklesia” is used in the New Testament, it refers to the community of believers, not the physical structure in which they were worshipping.  The “temple” was the location of worship.  The “ekklesia” was the group of people who worshipped in the temple, but who also did lots of other things—such as feeding the hungry (the daily distribution), religious instruction, and looking out for the general welfare of the people of the community.

The idea of a community is a group of people who love God, who worship Him together, who learn about Him together.  After this, they love each other, they take care of each other.  One benefit of being part of a church community has to be a sense of belonging in the community.  This goes two ways.  Each member of the community has to be open to joining the “community,” they have to make an investment in the community, they can’t just come to church and leave, remaining unknown to the community.  And each member of the community has to be welcoming to other members of the community, to reach out and embrace the others in the community.  So that there is a sense of unity, oneness, and purposefulness in the community.

The first step is hard—it’s hard to get people to love God and desire to worship Him and learn about Him.  This is made easier in the context of a community, which encourages members to do these things.  The second step of building community is also challenging, because you have to do intentional community building.  The community does not build itself.  It has to be intentionally built.  That means doing activities that build community, whether that is a small group (which we will discuss), building community through fellowship hour after Divine Liturgy, in various ministries, or doing community wide activities like a picnic where members have the opportunity to get to know one another.

The third step of community building is even harder—which is caring for the greater community.  Because the work of the church community is not done once worship and fellowship have been established.  The work of the church continues outside the confines of the church community.  And it happens in two ways—It happens simply in service to the greater community in which the church community finds itself.  It includes outreach to the poor, visitation to the sick, and help for those who need help.  And it happens in intentional witness for the faith, inviting others to come and join the church community.

Here is a simple, but beautiful analogy.  Imagine all the members of the church community come together.  We’re not talking about only the ones who come each Sunday.  Let’s say that the Pascha and Christmas crowd comes together, so that all members of the community are present.  Imagine they all get in a line on the side of the basketball court in the community gym.  And then imagine that all were asked to take a step forward.  Just that, take a step forward.  Some would probably argue.  Why should I do that?  Some might take a step backward, just to see what would happen.  Some wouldn’t understand the directions.  And some wouldn’t follow them.  But imagine if everyone took a step forward at the same time.  The “power” and “grace” that would come from everyone taking a step forward together, in unity, in sync, would be a sight to behold.

This is what a church community is supposed to do—to move forward, together, in unity, in sync, to change the world by spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and showing His love to all.  So the community is about more than just the church building.  It’s about what we do in the church building, and it’s about what we do outside of the church building.  Because when Christ told us to build a church, He was not talking about a temple but about a community, a community of believers who would love Him, and would lead others to Him.

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.  Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.  It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.  Lo, sons are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one’s youth.  Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them!  He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.  Psalm 127

Focus on building community, not just the church (temple) the community worships in!

The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

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Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0