Faith Matters: A call for community: Only in community can we fulfill God’s plan for the church

Mark Ellis is pastor of Shutesbury Community Church on the Shutesbury town common.

Mark Ellis is pastor of Shutesbury Community Church on the Shutesbury town common. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By PASTOR MARK E. ELLIS

Shutesbury Community Church

Published: 01-12-2024 11:29 AM

One of my favorite movies is “Castaway,” a dramatic, Robinson Crusoe-type tale about one man’s survival on a desert island. Tom Hanks plays FedEx executive Chuck Nolan, who boards a FedEx plane to attend a business meeting in Malaysia. Over the Pacific, the plane goes down and Nolan alone is able to get into a life raft and float to a nearby island, along with a number of FedEx packages.

At first, Nolan is a good company man, protecting the packages so they can be delivered when he is rescued. But as the days go by, Nolan realizes rescue may be a long way off and what’s inside the packages might help him stay alive. He actually survives pretty well, but he craves companionship, which becomes as important as food and water. Then one day he opens a package and finds a Wilson soccer ball. He draws a face on the ball, names it Wilson, and from then on has a devoted, though silent, friend.

Community is an essential need of human beings and has been since our beginning. In Genesis, God created the world, then created man in His image. All through the first chapter, as God created each thing, the Bible says, “God saw that it was good.” But in chapter 2, after creating Adam, God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 2:17). This is the first time God said something was not good.

Why was God suddenly displeased with an aspect of Creation? Because God is relational. He understands our need for community because He is a God of community. God is a Trinity — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — and the Three Persons of the Godhead act in relational ways. We see this in Ephesians when Paul writes, “And in (Christ) you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Eph 2:22). Father, Son and Holy Spirit work in communion to mold us through sanctification.

So, if God knows the necessity of community, then He certainly realized the need for Adam to have companionship and to live in community. So He made Eve.

Jesus also knew the necessity of community when He created the church. In John 17, Jesus spoke a powerful prayer, first praying for His disciples, then adding, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us … I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me — so that they may be brought to complete unity” (Jn 17:20-21a, 22-23a).

In this prayer, Jesus expresses His hope and expectation for all Christians in all times. He seeks unity in the church – not just unity among the body but also unity of the body with the Son and the Father. The church is not just a community of people; it is a community of people and their God.

Sadly, many Christians today feel it unnecessary to attend church. Some watch religious services on TV or online. Some listen to Christian music on Sundays. Some walk in nature to commune with God. But Jesus’ intention is for believers to gather together, break bread together, and share Him together. He wants the church to be a family of believers.

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In the Book of Acts, we see this plan fulfilled in the early church. Acts 2 describes the first weeks and months of the church: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer ... All the believers were together and had everything in common” ( Acts 2:42, 44).

That is the very definition of community. Merriam-Webster defines community as “people with common interests living in a particular area.” The early believers were in the same city, sharing their time in worship and prayer, listening to the apostles teach, and gathering together for meals and social activities. They were, in other words, a family. As a result, “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47b).

We live in a different world today, but the human need for community is as strong as ever. And Christ’s desire for His church to be a community is also as strong as ever. Only in community can we fulfill God’s plan for the church, not sitting at home and watching a worship service on social media, not walking in the woods, not even attending church an hour each week and having no other part in it. If we Christians are to fulfill God’s plan for us, for the church and for the world, we must serve Christ together in community. There are plenty of churches, all eager for new members. Find and attend one. Become part of the family.

Mark Ellis is pastor of Shutesbury Community Church on the Shutesbury town common. We are a Bible-based, mission-oriented church committed to making a positive contribution in our community and the world. Our services are at 9:30 a.m. Sundays and 6:15 p.m. Wednesdays, with Bible study following at 7 p.m. Bible study is available on Zoom. Sunday services can be seen at www.facebook.com/shutesburychurch and www.youtube.com/channel/UC8BhODPKcEUrSGfabaHvc9Q. Contact us at 413-349-8444, shutesburychurch@gmail.com or P.O. Box 679, Shutesbury, MA 01072.