Over the last few months I’ve read a few books on church life including this one by Brian Croft. I think it is more relevant to the American context than the UK but I loved the following story (pages 87-89)
“Lasting spiritual life comes through a pursuit of God’s design for His church. It is when the older teach and mentor the younger; when the younger seek the older for wisdom and godly examples; when men and women embrace their unique roles with other men and women; when black, white, rich, poor, slaves, and masters unite under the reality of having been saved by the blood of Christ in the power of the gospel. Where that unity is found, life comes with it.
A turning point in the revitalization work in our church came on a Saturday morning work day. One of our young single brothers from Scotland, Mike, chose to work outside, trimming shrubs with an older couple and long-time members in the church, Howard and Mae. My first concern with this scenario was that Mike was from Scotland and has an accent that reflects it.
Mae-let’s just say she’s not from Scotland. She’s from Kentucky! Mae has been working hard to plant trees and shrubs at our church longer than Mike has been alive. Additionally, Mike had quite a bit of experience trimming shrubs back in Scotland, so there was another legitimate concern that he may not receive well the instruction from Mae about how to do this. Mae likes to give instruction on these things. They worked all morning together and I had heard nothing.
Lunch ended. Mike and I went outside to look at the shrubs. As he showed me the fruit of his labors Mike went on and on about how much he loved getting to work with Howard and Mae. He talked about how much he learned about the history of the church from them and what was going on when this tree was planted and that bush was placed in the ground. That was a relief, but I had yet to talk to Mae.
The next morning was Sunday. Just before the service started, Mae walks up to me with a big smile on her face and said, ‘Boy, I really like that Mike! He is a good worker! I don’t understand much that he says, but I like him a lot.’ Do you see the unifying power of the gospel in that? Here are two people of different age, gender, social-economic class, and even nationality who could find all kinds of reasons to dislike the other. And yet they are unified because of their love for Christ and our church. With spiritual eyes they are able to look upon the other, see the value they are to one another, and embrace God’s design for the local church.
So, who is my brother/sister? It is first and foremost any person who has placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ and has been transformed by the power of the gospel. It is a sinner saved by God’s grace who may be of a different generation, different race or ethnic group. It may be someone who lives on the other side of the tracks from you or speaks a different language than you. It may be your boss, or one of your lowly employees. A church that needs revitalization needs to take a hard look at this question, Who are the kinds of people who are not welcome in our church? Dying, divided churches cannot find true, lasting spiritual life if they are not willing to receive and love all those who belong to Christ. Regardless of how different someone may be from us, if they belong to Christ-they are your brother or sister. God’s design is that this motley crew of God’s redeemed people come under the one banner of ‘Christ and Him crucified’ and experience a love and fellowship that magnifies the true unifying power of the gospel.”