Change Happens in Community

As we study what Scripture tells us about growth, change, and restoration, we learn more and more that the process of healing and restoration happens in the context of community. The New Testament is filled with commands for how we are to live in relation to one another because of the work of God that is happening in us.

The Body of Christ
Jesus gives his disciples the command to love one another (John 13:34; 15:12). A new command, not because loving one another is something new, but because the model for that love is new. John explains this further in his first letter: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16). We have the model of God’s love which spills out from our hearts into the lives of those around us: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

Sections of Paul’s letters are also filled with commands that describe the love that we should have for one another, the way that we should live because of the work of Jesus Christ in our lives. Passages such as Romans 12, Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12 instruct us in how we are to live together as children of God, how we are to live as the body of Christ. Other passages contain commands for bearing one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2), spurring one another on to love and good works (Heb 10:24), encouraging one another (1 Thess 5:11), forgiving one another (Eph 4:32), looking out for each other (Phil 2:4), and so much more.
Our relationship with God is reflected in our relationship with others. The work that God is doing in us is shown the relationships we have with those around us. At the same time, God is using those relationships to restore and strengthen us. The change that happens in our lives doesn’t happen in isolation, it is deeply rooted in the context of community.

Created to Need God and Need Others
As we reflect on the passages above and how God has commanded us to be busy in the lives of those around us, it is very easy to divide ourselves into two categories, the helpers and the needy; those who support and care, and those who receive support and care. In his book ‘Side by Side,’ and in presentations from the ‘Growing Together’ program, Ed Welch shakes up our thoughts on this. He points out that there are not two categories but that each one of us is needy and each one of us is a helper. The line that distinguishes between the two goes straight through our hearts. We are all in need of help and we are all commanded to help those around us. He goes further to point out that is it only when we truly know our own neediness and dependence on God that we are able to minister well to those around us.
Being needy is not something many of us are comfortable with. The idea of being vulnerable and opening up about things that are happening in our own lives or the impact of that on our hearts is scary. For many, the idea of revealing some more of ourselves or things that we are struggling over is attached to feelings of fear and even shame. Without realising, many Christians associate being needy with the fall into sin. What we don’t realise is that it is our discomfort and shame around our neediness that is due to the fall. God has created us to need him and to need the people around us. We are created for deep interdependent relationship with God and with each other.
Paul Tripp outlines this in his book ‘Instruments in the Redeemers Hands.’ He uses Genesis 1 to illustrate that even in perfection, Adam and Eve were reliant on God. Created in God’s image, they were reliant on him to make sense of the world, and their role in it. In the following chapter, God says that it is not good for man to be alone. Part of being human is to find ourselves in community with those around us. Just as the persons of the triune God live in deep communion with one another, being created in the image of God means that we live in deep interdependence on God and on those around us.

Church as a Haven for Change
“We believe that that Church, when operating as Christ intended it to be, is the greatest treatment centre on earth.” As the body of Christ, the church is the best place for growth and restoration. As we follow God’s commands for us, the church becomes a haven for those who are hurting, a shelter for those that find themselves in the midst of the storm. As the body of Christ, we are called to reach out to the hurting, support those who are struggling, and nurture those in need.
This care and support merely begins with making meals, doing some housework or providing financial support. People’s needs are so much more than physical. Scripture calls us to care for each other’s souls as we build one another up (Rom 14:19; 1 Thess 5:11), exhort one another (Heb 3:13) and where necessary admonish one another (Rom 15:14). Our conversations become infused with the gospel as our love for God and our love for each other grows simultaneously.
It is through these gospel infused conversations that we learn to wisely connect the hope of Scripture to the details of our lives. We share more about what is happening in our lives, drawing closer to each other as we reveal the cares of our heart. The encouragement and strengthening that comes from brothers and sisters in Christ helps us to turn to God with our fears and burdens. As we pray with each other and for one another, we learn more of the work of the Triune God in our lives. Together we come to know and love each other more, and in that our love and knowledge of God is encouraged and strengthened.
The gospel infused conversations are not limited to a biblical counsellor’s office or a pastoral visit from your minister or elders. The gospel should fill all of our conversations. Each time we interact with each other, our love for God and for his people drives us to connect over more than the weather or sport. Guided by this love, we draw closer and share some more details of our lives as we talk after church. Our conversations over coffee move from the superficial, drawing deeper to some of the matters that are weighing on our hearts. The focus and nature of our Bible studies shift as we learn to move from talking about the passage to applying the passage to specific details in our lives. We learn to ask for prayer in new ways, growing in vulnerability and wisdom.

We Believe
Perhaps this does seem idealistic, a far-fetched dream of love, harmony and wisdom that seems unachievable. This is not a vision that is based on our achievements, or on how well we can listen, love, or care for those around us. The love that we have for one another is God’s love. He commands us to care for each other and promises that He will give us what we need to do so.
God is at work in his church. He is busy using us, and using those in our lives to restore, strengthen and heal. Through the work that He is doing, the church will continue to grow as the greatest treatment centre on earth. In the work that He is doing in each of us, we will grow in love, wisdom, and humility so that we may learn to connect Scripture with the details of our lives and the lives of those around us.

Camille de Vos
Executive Officer – Trellis Counselling

[1] Lee Lewis and Michael Snetzer in Biblical Counselling in the Church,Bob Kellemen (Editor.)

[11] This is not to take away from the role of professionals in supporting those who need specialist care. Instead, this is to orient the care that they provide within the church.

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