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Serve One Another

This is a paper I wrote after reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's book Life Together, which is a classic on Christian community. I invite you to consider my own thoughts as an invitation for you to also consider this question: what do you want to get from our church? And, just as importantly, what do you want to give to our church?

Just about three years ago, I stood on the edge of a tremendous change – like being at the top of a strong wave before its peak descended. My wife and I had just had our first child. We were preparing to move from Pasadena to Owensboro, and I was about to enter full-time ministry for the first time as an ordained minister. I was full of idealism.

Now three years older and the father of two children (and back in a place that once was my home), I am fresh with a new idealism. But, I am also deeply aware of reality.

Interestingly, in this same three year span I read Bonhoeffer’s classic on community twice. Both times it was a valuable read. The first time I read it, I did so with my new colleague in ministry, and traveling through the book together helped both of us. It helped me a great deal to see the importance of “pressing into” community even when it continues to go contrary to an ideal. Such was largely my experience in Owensboro.

But, this second time I am impressed with the following quote: “The community of faith does not need brilliant personalities but faithful servants of Jesus and of one another.” And, perhaps just as important as this quote is the entire section on Service. Bonhoeffer has helped me reframe my role as pastor and as a Christian.

The entirety of Bonhoeffer’s work reminded me of the necessity of Jesus Christ – both his grace and his example – for any community. But, it was particularly in the section of Service that I remembered the centrality of service in the Christian life.

Listening to one another, active helpfulness and bearing with one another: these are the three marks to aim for. These are also the three marks that I have somehow lost along the way. And, I do not find these marks lifted up by others. Especially as I enter a new ministry as a solo pastor, there is great pressure from both the congregation and from myself to be a charismatic leader, to guide these people into community through my own will. And, added to this potential toxin is a similar danger: the demand that we “fix” our body externally rather than relationally – to take care of our budget, to work out a clear “vision,” to win new converts rather than attend to being a community together.

When I accepted the call to serve Greencastle, my ideal was to build up the church community. It is still my hope that God would build these people up. And, Anna and I long to grow with the community of Greencastle, “to seek its welfare” as we mature as a family. But, community is not something I can produce. It is not within my power, nor do I want the cult of personality.

So I return again to Bonhoeffer’s ongoing message: what is needed are faithful servants of Jesus and of one another.


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