Some say, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” But I would beg to differ when it comes to Internet searches of the word “community.”
I was shown stock photos, clip art and logos. According to Google, community is staged, simple or a symbol used to identify an organization. I’ve given the entire collection nine words.
Sure, there were pictures of persons holding hands across cultures. Cue a rendition of “Kumbuya” and in cases of social injustice, “We shall overcome.”
We know what community, that is togetherness, should look like and the songs most appropriate for such a commitment.
We know where we should stand but only after Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated. We tell ourselves that we would have marched with King. We tell others that our parents did. Both are lies.
This is not totally our fault, however, because we have had too few examples, models of inclusive community that do not seek to overpower and take, compare, critique, challenge and then change persons not made in our image.
So often, we cross cultures only to bring them to our side.
The life of Jesus and the church that followed after is talked about as the “good ol’ days” while we pray, “Your kingdom come.” The power of Pentecost is bottled up and sold by televangelists for five monthly installments of $19.99 plus shipping and handling.
The countercultural and prophetic witness of the early church that shared all things in common is reduced to a fellowship hour of cookies and coffee (see Acts 2:44; 4:32).
Though we have Christ’s message and example, we still find it difficult to repeat after him and to follow in his footsteps daily. Instead, we have reduced discipleship to one-hour increments on Sunday mornings.
We take up our cross and leave it stuck between the pages of our hymnal or pew Bible. We come to church to do Christian things and then leave to return to “the real world.”
And the church is not a Christian hideout. It is not a place where we go to be a Christian. Because Christianity is not practiced in a building, but in our bodies. Our faith must be embodied, expressed and experienced by others.
Somehow, discipleship is viewed as disconnected from reality and our daily life. The warning has been heeded as we can be “so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good.” But, could the warning be reversed now?
There seems to be no need to take the sermon home with us. Surely, there will be no follow-up call to ensure that we followed through and there’s no official homework assignments after Sunday school.
But, what do we do with Jesus after church? Because we can’t just leave him in the sanctuary. What is he supposed to do all week inside the building? No, he should go home with us.
He doesn’t require much and needs no sold-out crowd. He’ll show up for two or three people (Matthew 18:20). He is content to spend time with us around the dinner table.
I mean, what kind of Christians would we be if we didn’t invite Jesus over for dinner or, better still, ask him to move in with us and to share in our lives? How do we separate our lives from our love for him? He’s family. And so are the people with whom we share a pew.
How do we go home after church on Sunday and have no desire to see them during the week? How do Christians have church friends? We don’t. We are a church family.
How do we say that we love God while secretly hating and consciously hiding from the persons who don’t share our cultural heritage after Sunday morning worship (see 1 John 4:20)?
Because it is not enough to sit next to each other for an hour. Instead, we will need more time if we are to share in life eternal.
So, I want to see some photos of us sharing a meal together, walking our dogs or exercising together, celebrating new life and mourning the death of loved ones together, shopping and planning family vacations together.
Because what kind of community is being practiced in segregated churches? And how would we describe these images to God?
Google does not have great pictures of community. Sadly, neither does the church.
Starlette Thomas is associate pastor of Village Baptist Church in Bowie, Maryland. A version of this article first appeared on her blog, Race-less Gospel, and is used with permission. You can follow her on Twitter @racelessgospel.
Minister to empower congregations at the D.C. Baptist Convention. She is a member of the Good Faith Media strategic advisory board.