In search of authentic Christian community
Updated: Aug 11
This article was first published in Methodist Message July 2023 and is reproduced with permission. Read the original article here.
"It is written clearly in the Bible that the Church should (be) ________ ,
but why don't I see ________ in my church today?"
This question undergirds many ongoing conversations on young adults in the Methodist Church. It lies beneath disappointments, disillusionments, and frustrations nursed by young adults who feel let down when their churches remain distant from scriptural precedents and ideals. It drives young adults from church to church, in search of congregations and communities that fit into their envisaged notions of Christian fellowship. It pushes young adults away from church altogether when hypocrisy or abuse causes this question to fester into discouragement and despair.
Fundamentally, this question is an expression of desire among young adults to be part of a church living in obedience to Christ. While this should seem like a common aspiration among all Christians, it may be a challenge to appreciate every believer’s unique perspective towards this. Convictions are shaped by different experiences and generational and societal pressures.
Left unchecked, dissonant perspectives can threaten the unity of the church. Church members may become discouraged by perceived stubbornness, pettiness, or rebellion. Theological disagreements may taint interactions within the community. Generational distinctions may harden into fault lines.
Writing to the early Church, the Apostle Paul addressed the struggle of disunity through the unifying image of the Church as one body formed of many parts, under Christ’s headship. It is in appreciating this image that we learn to wrestle with this question together, align our individual perspectives and learn to live in obedience to Christ, as one church.
We are many different parts
If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? (1 Corinthians 12:17 NIV)
In Paul’s first epistle to the church of Corinth, the image of difference between body parts is taken to affirm each believer’s individuality. Being part of a church does not demand the abandonment of one’s individuality, nor does it demand that others abandon theirs. Paul illustrates the absurdity of a body composed completely of only one body part by highlighting the need for each part’s purpose and function. Similarly, we cannot, and should not, expect such homogeneity in our views, experiences, talents, and gifts. Just as the body is designed to function through the collective diversity of its parts, so it is with the Church and its members.
Christ as the head
Our individuality must, however, be subject to the enthronement of Christ as the head of the Church. It is crucial to align our individual perspectives of what the church should be with that taken by Christ, and discern the Lord’s will for our churches.
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:15-16 NIV)
Paul writes of the body growing and building itself up in love. Just as we test our understanding of church life through prayer and scripture, as well as by the Godly counsel of friends, family, and church members, so too must we allow our love for Christ, and each other, to anchor and find expression in the communal life of the church.
We are one body
Our individuality is nested within the networks of relationships that comprise our church communities. In his epistle to the church in Rome, Paul illustrates that it is through these networks and the collective diversity of every believer’s individuality that the church grows and builds itself up.
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. (Romans 12:4-6 NIV)
Being a part of the Church extends beyond simple inclusion within community life. It asks of us to be connected to other members such that our talents, gifts, and experiences may complement one another and work together. Through the image of the body “held together by every supporting ligament” as “each part does its work”, Paul illustrates that the building up of the Church is only made possible through connection between church members, as well as the coordinated exercise of their respective individual gifts. In building up our churches, we each have our parts to play.
Speaking the truth in love
In encouraging the church in Ephesus to be this body of Christ, Paul instructs them to speak the truth in love. To consider how we can be a collective body of believers living in obedience in Christ, it is imperative that we have such truthful, loving conversations with one another.
Paul’s instructions did not confine the Ephesian church to organising such conversations within particular structures. Some conversations could be formalised, others left to develop organically. This should provide relief that we need not bind ourselves to dialogue sessions, townhalls or meetings. Developing meaningful relationships may simply require a little initiative.
Sit next to someone new this Sunday. Say hello to an unfamiliar face. Invite an uncle or auntie out for coffee. Join the youths for lunch (maybe even ice cream after). Catch up with someone you haven’t talked to in a while.
These speak of the hospitality essential to life as a church, as lavish expressions of Christ’s love. These actions also speak to the unique places in which young adults are positioned within the body of the Church to have these conversations—at the precipice or intersection between different age segments.
Programmes and structures are, however, an excellent way to bring people together by reducing social inertia, which can inhibit the forming of new relationships or the strengthening of existing ones. In Covenant Community Methodist Church, young adults have various platforms for such conversations—with the youths in the Youth Ministry; amongst themselves in their Small Groups and in the monthly get-togethers organised by our Young Adults Ministry; and with the adults in programmes intended to support young adults through difficult transitions, such as into marriage or the workplace.
It is through our relationships and conversations with each other that we begin to know one another, and in doing so, learn to better love, encourage, and support one another.
Through these conversations, we begin to understand the different generational and societal pressures that shape our theological understandings of the Church, particularly as young adults start exercising a sense of ownership and belonging to their church communities. These conversations allow us to see how best we can realise Christ’s blueprint for communal Christian life within our churches. They allow us to see how we may use our respective God-given gifts, as our fellow church members use theirs, to build up our churches as the body of Christ, for the sake of the world and for one another.
(right) Darryl Lau worships at Covenant Community Methodist Church. He leads a Small Group of young adults and supports other such groups as part of the church’s Small Group Ministry. In his free time, Darryl enjoys conversations over kopi and regularly advocates for justice and reconciliation as a member of the Singapore Bar.
(left) Jonathan Chan is a writer and editor. He is the author of the poetry collection going home (Landmark, 2022). His poetry and essays have appeared in Ekstasis, Inheritance, The Yale Logos, Christianity Today and the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity. He serves as a worship leader in the Main and Korean-English Worship Services at Covenant Community Methodist Church and is also the Director of the CCMC Gospel Choir.