Because gas is cheap and we are rich, we are able to pursue many possibilities in life. These possibilities open the gates for hobbies, special interests or just plain indulgence of legitimate functions such as work.
But not all of us are content to only pursue a closed-in world of a hobby like model shipbuilding or reading poetry. We look for something that is broader; something that involves other people. We want to socialize with our spare time.
Christians have many opportunities to socialize. From soup kitchens and sewing circles to box packing at CAM to going sledding, skating, or picnicking, we have the means and the opportunities to invite another family or two or ten to go with us. Have we noticed that the more prosperous a society becomes the more specialized its socializing becomes? Can we also see that as the prosperous society specializes in socializing, it becomes the norm to use specialization to address its deeper issues?
In a 19th century community, the widows per capita was much higher than today. Yet, those communities could not have a retreat for widows. Why? The widows were too poor to get in their covered wagons and head up the river to a fort along the Susquehanna for a weekend with widows. The same was true for the depressed, the discouraged and the disconsolate of all ages. If the needs of these were going to be met, they were going to be met in a larger blended community called congregational life or community life.
Today, there is a very high pressure for specialized support to replace the traditional support which historically has been supplied by the local congregation. While there is relief that has come by this shift, the unfortunate fallout has been the devaluing of congregational life.
In the devaluing of congregational life, there will be a need for specialized support to rise to the occasion to stand in the gap. Doesn’t this sound like a self defeating circle?
It is the intent of the Head of the church that the church body meets the needs of the body. Read Romans 12; read Ephesians 4; read I Corinthians 12; and then read Hebrews 10. Do these Scriptures not teach a robust, rounded out life where all needs are met? While it is true that the early church raised up special workers for special needs, (see Acts 6), the authority of those special workers was under the church. Therefore, their sphere of performance was still under the authority of the church. as these specialized workers saw areas for change, they effected change in the arena of the congregational life.
Healthy congregational life will be the most rewarding when the congregation is the center of social life. This health will be realized as people come together with regularity, with priority and with a vision that this is home or center. The fire house is not the center, the ice pond is not the center, and neither is the retreat or the support group, the center.
Sure, there will be visits in each other’s homes. We may go on picnics together, pack boxes together, and do many things together. But above all else, we will worship together, we will study the Scriptures together, and we will meet each others needs in the simple arena of together: grandparents together with parents in the heat of the battle, widows together with singles and newly marrieds, and even youth with ageds.
This is why wise congregational life not only meets on Sunday mornings and midweek services. We meet in specialized services like weekend meetings, revival meetings, and Winter Bible Schools. We encourage our youth to go into the greenhouse of Bible School. We do this because we want spiritual study and worship to be the social center of our lives. We are wise enough to know that this is integral to our own spiritual survival.