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Any Extra Places Around Your Table?

A church is a community like no other—at least it should be, according to Jesus.

 “An Inclusive Community of Grace.”<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
“Relationships More Important Than Programs.”
 
“Embracing Diversity. Rejecting Uniformity.”
 
“Your Place for Faith, Family and Friends.”
 
“Unconditional Acceptance.”
 
“An Inclusive, Discovering Fellowship.”
 
“Loving Fellowship, Valued Diversity, Genuine Inclusiveness.”
 
“<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />A Place to Call Home … A People to Call Family.”
 
Recognize yourself? You should. The descriptions above come from church tag lines, mission statements, vision statements and pastoral columns. You can discover a lot about how a church defines itself by visiting its Web site.
 
But you can find out even more by actually becoming a part of the community: worshiping, learning, ministering, praying and participating in countless ways with the people who make up the church.
 
A church is a community like no other—at least it should be, according to Jesus. In the community called the church, everybody is somebody. Everybody is valued and included, even those individuals our culture excludes and throws away; even those who don’t live up to our standards, and maybe never will.
 
Jesus turned the religious community upside down, because he challenged conventional standards and changed all the “rules.” When he ate with tax collectors like Matthew, he modeled true community: a place where everyone can be themselves and experience unconditional love, acceptance and forgiveness.
 
Rather than demanding that people meet expectations—either his or the culture’s—Jesus allowed them to be who they were: sinners. He didn’t expect them to get all cleaned up before he would eat with them. He ate with them first. Anyone could find a place around his table.
 
Doing the will of God changes how we experience and express community. In the community that is Christ’s church, we can be ourselves; feel valued and learn to value others; confess and ask for forgiveness; give and receive help and encouragement; expect accountability.
 
Church becomes a lot more meaningful, and a lot closer to Christ’s intentions, when we leave the standard-setting, and the judging, to God.
 
Pastor Brent McDougal–also a columnist for EthicsDaily.com–wrote a book a couple of years ago called The River of the Soul: A Spirituality Guide for Christian Youth. In it he offers three simple suggestions for practicing community:
 
–Be intentional about nurturing community. It won’t happen unless you do.
 
–Practice honest speaking. Share differences instead of hiding them. We’re all better off that way.
 
–Find small ways to encourage others. It doesn’t have to cost a thing except a little time.
 
If you had to write a tag line for your Sunday school class or church that describes your goal as a Christian community, what would it be?
 
Writing it is one thing. Living it is quite another.
 
Jan Turrentine is managing editor of Acacia Resources.
 
See our review of The River of the Soul: A Spirituality Guide for Christian Youth.
 
Click here to download a sample lesson from Acacia Resources’ newest online curriculum, Doing the Will of God: Studies in Matthew.
 
Click here to order Living Wisely, Living Well: Lessons from The Proverbs or download a sample lesson.
 
Click here to order Courageous Churches or download a sample lesson.