Among You – Words of Grace – June 9, 2023

Among You – Words of Grace – June 9, 2023

The local, on-the-ground, up-close-and-personal nature of the Christian congregation is where the action is. The New Testament epistles affirm that reality and give instructions for this kind of life together.

I’ll admit that I’m wired to love being at home, with my home church, and in my hometown. But my understanding of the local church is more than a personal preference, it’s a theological commitment.

We can’t read the Bible without seeing clearly that God’s work is in real time and space, among living people. When we read the letters of the New Testament, we are reading about congregations. They are local, gathered, and organized for ministry. The spiritual union of believers in Christ is real, but it gets worked out when we get close enough to experience each other with our physical senses.

I was reminded of these things while reading 1 Peter 5 this week. In his words to the elders of the congregation, Peter used the phrase “among you” twice. “I exhort the elders among you… shepherd the flock of God among you.”

“Among you” is a small phrase that communicates a great deal about church life.

Church life is lived in real time and space. Congregations are local, meaning they are located somewhere physical where people gather. You go to them in your body, not just your mind. They are visible to all.

This was not just a reality for the pre-digital world. Still today there are reasons for gathering at a physical location for church life. Internet technology has great benefits for the church. I’m glad we use it and grateful that many of our people who are unable to gather physically with us are able to watch services and communicate with us online. But every person I talk to who is truly unable to attend church tells me they wish they could. They feel the longing for real time and space, bodily gathering with others. They want to be “among us” with their senses.

Church life is identifiable. For Peter to say “among you” to the congregations of first-century Asia Minor, he assumed these Christians could identify who was among them. They knew who constituted the congregation and who made up its leadership. The congregation knew who was responsible to oversee them, and the elders knew who they were responsible to care for.

One reason this is important is because undefined responsibilities among unidentifiable groups just don’t get fulfilled. But when it’s clear who does what, when, where, and how, good things happen. In healthy church life, the elders among the flock, and the flock among the elders, are clearly identifiable.

Church life is where people are known. Peter could assume that not only did they know who constituted the congregation, but they also knew each other as individuals in the congregation. Because they gathered in time and space, and could identify who made up the congregation, they came to know each other well enough to love, serve, and help each other live as sojourners in the world.

Grace Community Church, let’s take the words, “among us” to heart. This weekend, spend some time praying and thinking about your place and service among us. Ask God to increase the number of people among us by drawing more people to faith in Christ. Pray for the elders among us. If you are physically able, be among us Sunday for worship. Call or visit someone who can’t gather with us so they will know they are still among us, loved and cared for by us.