This week’s eNewsletter Feature
was written by Jim Teague
FPCE director of communications.
Dear friends –
A few weeks back, I travelled to Ohio to attend the memorial service for Bob, a college friend, fellow soccer player, and fraternity brother of mine from college. We had not been in regular contact for some years, though I had been to see him last September after learning he was severely ill.
The night before Bob’s memorial, I got together with a couple of fellow fraternity brothers, Larry and Frank, at a restaurant outside Cincinnati. Both men had been instrumental in my giving my life to Jesus near the start of my sophomore year, and, to this day, I am as close with them as I am anyone else. We don’t always see eye to eye in matters of this world, but I would trust them with my life, and they know more about my failings and fears than probably anyone except my wife.
Both Frank and Larry had kept in touch with Bob after college. He sought their advice and input after graduation and, with their help, put his trust in Jesus. After that, he was a changed man. Throughout the years that followed, and especially after his cancer diagnosis, Frank and Larry stayed in close contact with Bob, his wife, and his daughter, all of whom lived in Dayton.
That faithfulness exhibited by Larry and Frank inspires me. It is, for me, a living example of Christian community unencumbered by walls, miles, state lines, or even by time.
All that being said in their favor, Larry and Frank always seem to find a way to make our time together seem — well, goofy. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can get uncomfortable… at least for me.
Larry is the guy who first led me to put my trust in Jesus at college. The night before Bob’s memorial, he and I had arrived at the restaurant ahead of Frank. When Frank entered the establishment to join us, Larry and I didn’t even give him time to reach our booth before we began to heckle him, call him by old, silly nicknames, and generally revert to the irreverent, immature, and obnoxious college boys we had been over 35 years ago.
Frank likes to be the guy the host, waiter and busboy remember when their shift is over. Silly (sometimes embarrassing), loud, and not constrained by social norms like only ordering what is on the menu or not asking odd flippant questions (“Do you know where they caught the fried calamari? Was it fried when they caught it?”).
Larry, on the other hand, can be laughing it up with us one minute and then turn stoic and imposing with the restaurant staff, silently scanning the menu as the waiter waits. This can take an extended amount of time, with Larry almost never making eye contact in the process. Like I said. Uncomfortable.
For many years, I have wished the two of them would be more inclined to consider the feelings of the waiters, busboys, and others who unwittingly cross our paths in times of extreme silliness. Put another way, I wish they would be more like me.
This week, we begin a new teaching series at First Pres called “Created for Community: Attachment and Christian Formation.”
Senior Pastor Ray Hylton describes the series this way:
Even before the devastation and communal separation caused by COVID-19, church congregations were already seeing telltale signs of decline in membership, discipleship, spiritual growth, and deep community. The factors driving such decline are myriad. The goal of this seven-week focus is to revive the vision and power of the church as a community. God created us to be in community, not isolation. A careful reading of Scripture reveals that it is impossible to be a vibrant follower of Jesus without Community.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer says in “Life Together”:
Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this. Whether it be a brief, single encounter or the daily fellowship of years, Christian community is only this. We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ.
If spiritual formation is the central task of the local church, the primary mission that Jesus gave to his disciples (Matthew 28:18-20), then without deep attachment to a community of faith, spiritual growth, transformation, and discipleship withers. Conversely, healthy congregations have healthy communities rooted in Christ.
On Sunday, Pastor Hylton will begin with the topic of “Irresistible Community,” drawing from the idea that while gatherings of the early church were not perfect, they were rooted in central, communal practices that helped them flourish. We could (and will) learn a lot from them.
This series promises to be more than just deep thoughts to ponder. There will be practical advice yoked with essential opportunities. It won’t always be comfortable, but it will be immensely rewarding.
Now I’m reaching a point in life where I am starting to appreciate and even cherish gifts from God that I had never taken much notice of in prior seasons of my life. In some cases (such as having fast friends who drive me bonkers), I am learning far more about myself than I would have if things had been the way I would have designed them on my own. By rubbing up against the different qualities and perspectives others bring to the table of life, I am now enjoying a banquet of experiences I might well have turned down in years past.
I am sure (because they’ve told me) Larry and Frank wish I would lighten up, quit worrying so much about what others think, and just enjoy the craziness that is our little shared community. Still, they know I won’t ever give up on them and I am confident they have my back, too.
We’ve probably all heard the saying “You can’t choose your family.” In some sense, the same is true once we join a church. We might find those we are connected with rub us the wrong way, have different views we struggle to see past, or just plain annoy us at times. But making that commitment also comes with so many enduring positives and benefits of longer, broader vision to our spiritual growth that the trade-off is well worth it.
May we all grow in our love for one another as we see ourselves with fresh eyes.
Director of Communications