The importance of a faith community
I’m clearly biased on this topic. I’m the pastor of a church. I’ll admit it.
Christian faith communities – in other words, churches – are important. While there are lots of good things they do in communities, like offer free services, the most important thing is the nurturing of faith that happens within a church community.
Sometimes I hear people say they can best worship God by themselves outside. And I don’t deny that you can worship God in nature. We worship on Sundays in the summer in Makoshika at 8 a.m. And I love nature and find a lot of peace with God there. But God did not make us singular humans, each set on our own little island to live and grow and learn all by ourselves. We need other people.
Faith is definitely an individual activity, but it is also a communal activity. We gather together as a community of faith because we need each other. None of us is perfect – myself included. We can’t do everything on our own. And when we try, we continually fall short.
Each neuron in our brains can be connected to between one thousand to one hundred thousand other neurons. Our cells are connected to other cells. If not, we’d float apart. We wouldn’t exist. We need community. Our bodies know it. The small parts of our body are connected to other small parts – and in the same way we as whole people are to be connected to other individuals.
The life of faith connects people – and as faith formation is the central activity of the church, churches connect people. Faith connects us with God, churches connect us with each other, who in turn connect us back to God through our relationships. Other people, and their ideas, help to spur on a deeper search and understanding of God, our selves, and our neighbors. We need others to refine us and our thoughts. There is little innovation within a vacuum.
At Zion, we’re getting ready to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation soon. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther kicked off the Reformation, and the world has never been the same since. One of the rallying cries, the slogans, from way back then was this: the church reformed, and always reforming. We notice that we aren’t perfect, as individuals of faith or as a community. But we’re reforming, we’re tweaking, we’re reflecting on how we’ve been and who we’ll be in the future. And we aren’t going to stop anytime soon.
And this idea of reforming, constantly being made new, is one that invades the lives of faith of our congregation. This year we’re trying something new with Sunday School, where all ages are coming together to learn from each other. Why? Because we need each other. The old neurons and young neurons and middle-aged ones all need each other in order to create a strong and lasting entity. Come and check it out. Or bring these ideas to your faith community, and live out the communally reforming nature of faith and church and God wherever you call home.
As the pastor at Zion, I’ve seen the power of the life of faith over the whole course of the life cycle. From birth to death and everywhere in between, we have faith in God who is with us through thick and thin, the good and the bad, the death and the life. That faith is transformative, engaging, and connective.
Faith communities are important. They bring life and vitality and community in the midst of a world that fights against all that. Faith communities create lasting bonds and holy healing that sometimes goes beyond the understanding of our physical world. Come and join us on the journey.
Will Johnson is pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Glendive.