Live Strong: Community as a Body 4

2014-09.4

1 Thessalonians 5:11

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Body: The power of small things done consistently

Boat race 2011

Consistency and rhythm count for more than sheer effort in the endurance of the boat race

1 Thessalonians 5:11

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

WE HAVE been seeing how church and mission may make an impact from big, high-profile events – that’s what we think of first – or from the ‘small things’, done well and done consistently. When you look at the Bible’s accounts of the early church, there is much more about the latter.

“Keep meeting together”, “stand firm as one man in the faith”, “pray continually” – it’s almost saying, just keep on doing what you know to do. Don’t stop, don’t flag, don’t get distracted or discouraged, don’t listen to the enemy. Keep the routines going. Where does this happen? Not really in the loose gathering of the congregation, and not as an individual. In the body-life of a small group.

Years ago, I used to be a rower and I remember the feel of rowing in a four or an eight. It was hard work but it was exhilarating, it was teamwork – and harmony. You may watch the boat race on TV over the Easter weekend and the commentators are sure to remark constantly on how each crew looks, its precision and togetherness. Rowing an eight is a lot about keeping up that steady state effort over a long course, while maintaining rhythm and precision. I can’t do the physics calculations to prove it, but what drives the boat along – that bit more drive than the other crew – is the precision with which each blade bites the water at the same time and leaves it neatly. It’s about rhythm, not just effort. That is a small thing done well and very consistently.

A Bible pointer to small things done consistently is in the list of “one anothers” and “each others” found mainly in the New Testament. There are nearly 40 mentions of these, with some repetition of course, but here’s my list which boils it down to ten (the ones at the top of the list have several mentions):

  • Love and have fellowship with
  • Submit to, agree with, serve
  • Show compassion, be kind to
  • Greet, offer hospitality to
  • Honour
  • Be patient, live in harmony with
  • Encourage, spur on
  • Speak well of, bear with and forgive
  • Teach and mentor
  • Accept, associate with, be humble towards

The Celtic saints and the kind of community-centred spirituality they modelled had its focus on small things done consistently in a small-group community setting, rather than a spectacle in a grand building, which is the way the church centred on Rome wanted it done. And in the 7th century Rome said to the Irish, Welsh and Northumbrians, “Do it our way – and accept the tonsure as a sign of submission”. Something at that point was unified, or brought into line, but it may not have been unity. And something precious was lost.

The creation of Holy Spirit-engendered community in the market place of community is an attractive thing. It is Christianity demystified and made transparent. Today we like to talk about “church outside the walls” and we are almost trying to reinvent the same thing. Unholy people don’t feel comfortable entering into a holy building with a holy man and a holy ritual. It is hard to shake those perceptions.

However, lives which can be seen to be good, kind, and God-fearing, not in a ‘Sunday best’ way but in an authentic and consistent way, are lived out as a message. People may not read the Bible, but they read us! Those small things, done well and done consistently, will always read well to our not-yet-Christian friends.

Small spiritual disciplines, done consistently, bring the favour of God.

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