In his book entitled “The Call” by theologian and author Os Guinness he takes a step off of the primary focus of the book which is the discernment of one’s individual call to describing the call to community.
About 1/3 of the way through his book he summarizes our current situation this way:
“Community, of course, has fallen on hard times in the modern world. First, all modern people live with a greatly weakened sense of community compared with traditional people — due to modern travel, modern mobility, modern media, modern work and lifestyles, and a saturation of modern relationships.”
He goes on to say:
“No amount of talk of ‘virtual community’ can overlook the fact that communication that is person to person but not face to face amounts to a severe loss. The plain fact is that for most modern people, community is either a rare experience or a distant, even mocking, ideal.”
That observation was made in the original writing of this book in 1998. How much farther down that trail of isolation, individualism and loneliness have we traversed now that we’re in the digital age of modern social media and almost unlimited access to virtually anything we need to live our personal lives without ever leaving our individual dwellings.
I found this observation to be a pretty clear summary statement of the challenge that we all face as part of the “community of believers” that are otherwise known as the church of Jesus Christ. Even though America was accurately described many years ago by historian and anthropologist Alex de Tocqueville when he wrote in “Democracy in America”
“Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions constantly form associations…. whatever at the lead of a great undertaking you see the government in France, or a man of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find an association.”
De Tocqueville accurately observed, among many other things in his study of the American experiment, that doing things together was a central characteristic of what made America great.
The fact that we have been losing that inclination to be involved with others for a specific purpose is one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome as we engage the members of our local church body to be committed to the idea of community, especially as it is expressed through small groups in our church family.
As I hope to explain with a little more detail in my message at the Wexford campus this upcoming weekend, community life at North Way was a value that we full-heartedly embraced from the very first day that a group of nine men (and their spouses) met together in early 1981 to investigate the possibility that God was moving to start a new church in the North Hills of Pittsburgh.
During the following three months that transpired before our first worship service, one of the most critical characteristics that we sought to embrace as a new church was the idea of being fully committed to ‘community life.’
This meant that we were taking very seriously the importance of each and every member of the church in the contribution, encouragement, and support they could all provide for each other that far exceeded what any one pastor or hand full of leaders might try to accomplish.
What we discovered throughout the years was that many people would visit North Way and express enthusiasm about the dynamic worship services, the biblical teaching, the ministry to students and children, and the passion to share the good news of the Gospel of Jesus with not just our neighbors, friends, co-workers and fellow students, but throughout the U.S. and even around the world. We discovered that people who wanted to identify with North Way in all of those areas were a little more reluctant to consider a commitment to a small group of people where they would meet regularly, if not weekly, in someone’s home in circles of 8-10 or 12 people to study scripture, pray for each other, and encourage one another in the challenges and the victories of life.
What I find to be profoundly encouraging to me nearly four decades later is that we stood upon that value and continued to invest in it throughout the years so that community as expressed in a small group setting is still a central value that is both declared and experienced by a majority of North Way attenders.
Despite all of the obstacles that Os Guinness described in his book and the numerous ones we could add to that, there are many that would say that community life at North Way is still the time of the week that they most anticipate being together with other believers.
They, like many of you, have answered the “call to community” and lives have changed as a result.