The best testimony to the truth of the gospel is the quality of our life together. Jesus risked his reputation and the credibility of his story by tying them to how his followers live and care for one another in community (John 17:20-23).
If we could cut through our complacency or despair, we might be shocked at what is really at stake here. The character of our shared life - as congregations, communities, and families - has the power to draw people to the kingdom or to push them away. How we live together is the most persuasive sermon we'll ever get to preach.
The beauty of loving communities does not replace the importance of the verbal proclamation of the gospel, but Jesus explicitly linked the truth of his life and message to our life together. The Word who became flesh and lived among us - full of grace and truth - expects that our relationships with one another will also be characterized by grace and truth. And so, for two thousand years, Jesus' followers have been forming communities built and sustained by love, though often also fractured by sin and corruption.
The desire to be part of communities that are vibrant, caring, and faithful keeps us working at the task of building and repairing congregations. When folks enjoy being together, share celebrations, and walk through hard times with grace and love, the beauty of their shared life is deeply compelling. Human beings were made for living in community, and it is in community that we flourish and become most fully human.
Unfortunately, experiences of moral failure, group meltdowns, personal pettiness, and partisan harshness in congregations and communities make us wonder if our efforts in building community are worth the trouble. We often invest great hope in our Christian communities, and when there are serious ruptures, it feels as if part of the kingdom has been trampled.
How is it that people who want closer relationships and deeper experiences of shared life sometimes find themselves in terribly difficult situations - sorting out betrayals, broken commitments, and creeping cynicism?[i]