It's the kind of contrast that speaks to the richness of experience that is possible within a well-balanced community of faith. We worship together, joyful and exuberant - but it's in the context of commitment, encouragement, accountability and prayerful support that we grow. I've said this before, but it's too true not to repeat - most of my significant forward movement as a pilgrim in progress has come in the context of small groups.
Even in a church as resoundingly cool as ours there are too many people who fail to connect with living faith on a deep and personal level. Consequently, circles of support often emerge around common denominators other than faith. Church can easily become just one more club membership - along with civic organizations, the country club, the alumni booster association and the YMCA.
But here at home on Sunday evening, as a small covenant group of believers, we loved one another eloquently, and in the context of our commitment to follow Jesus. It's not that we don't have varied political opinions, or hot-button issues, or economic realities. And it's not that we don't own differing views about fine nuances of doctrine, or what to do about the homeless population, or favorite hymns and style of worship, or how much to spend on the renovations.... It's just that those differences don't matter nearly so much as the way that we love one another.
We're all "the right kind of people;" we're all "the sort of people we want at this church"... because we're all in need of grace and love and forgiveness and encouragement. Such a posture is the only basis of authentic community.
This morning (Monday) I interviewed a local pastor and we talked about "success". "It's so easy," he said, "to get caught up in the cultural definition, and to believe that ministry must win in the numbers arena to be considered cutting edge...."
Our small group - caught, partially, in a grainy cell-phone snapshot from last night - is the one of the most definitive and ongoing success stories of our ministry here.