Below you'll find the text and discussion questions from our conversation yesterday focusing on the second stage of being a missionary and planting a missional church, that of forming community. Would love to hear your thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc...
Over the last several weeks we have been talking and unpacking what it means to be a missionary/missional community/missional church plant. We have talked about how to be a missionary without ever leaving Lancaster. We have been talking about this because I believe one of the biggest issues that the American church has, is the recognition that we, in fact, live in a missions context. The American church has for too long thought of itself as a sending entity and not a missions context. In fact other countries send more missionaries here than we send to other countries.
Now you might say well Lancaster isn’t like that. We have lots of churches, lots of Christian events, lots of Christian culture and so we aren’t in a missions context. Let me show you something that I showed back when we started this. This is a study done by the Barna Group listing the top 100 post Christian cities in America. Some of the listings won’t probably surprise you. Like the fact that out of the top 10 cities 8 of them are in the Northeast. But one thing may surprise you. You can’t really see it but Harrisburg/Lancaster/Lebanon/York, our missional context is 38th on the list, above cities like Austin, TX at 44, Salt Lake City at 62, and New Orleans at 70. So our context of Lancaster is definitely a missions context, and in fact wherever you go, no matter where you go, you are in a missions context, whether that is your neighborhood, your work, your school, maybe your own family, etc… And so how do we live as missionaries in our missional context? How do we plant a missional church in our missional context? That is the question that we have been addressing all summer and will continue to address throughout the rest of the summer.
As I mentioned last week, and as we see on the screen, that the first stage of being a missionary or planting a missional church is to engage the culture, and we spent all of June talking about what engaging the culture means, and also spent time engaging the culture by walking around Lancaster and serving 117 lunches 2 weeks ago.
Then this month we transition to the second stage of being a missionary or planting a missional church is to form community. This doesn’t mean that you have completed the first stage of engaging culture and that you don’t have to do it anymore. No this forming community stage is still very much a part of the missional flow, and as you form community, you still need to engage culture. In fact this Scripture that we will be talking about together is something that we need to bring in to the conversation of engaging culture, because as followers of Jesus, we need to see this missional flow not as individual Christians but a community of missional disciples of Jesus doing it together. So when we engage culture, we are forming community with those we are engaging, and we are forming community with those who are part of our community, who are engaging culture with us.
So let’s look at this Scripture that spells out this fact that we can’t go it alone. That two is in fact better than one. Let’s look at the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes chapter 4:9-12 which says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
What does this Scripture say to us about forming community within a missionary’s life? What does this Scripture say to us about forming community within a missional church? What does it say about engaging culture as well? Those are the questions that we’ll dialogue around this morning.
Let’s walk through the verses and see why two are better than one, but three is even better. But before we look at the verses, we need to understand a little bit about the context that these verses sit in. You see in the previous section, King Solomon, thought how even in an under the sun world, that living alone made life worse. And he continues in this same idea noting that 2 are better than 1 and he continues stating why this is true.
And so verse 9 we see the writer saying that two are better than one. And then the rest of the verses he lays just how this plays out in the real world. How it is better to have two than one. These 4 verses show us the great value of human relationship. Being in community, according to the writer, adds 4 things to your life.
First, life in community adds productivity. Look at the second half of verse 9, “because they have a good return for their labor.” Think about it. It makes total sense. Have you ever done something, like around the house like laying new floor, painting, etc…? How having more than 1 worker makes the work go better, go smoother, and go faster. And honestly it’s more fun to work on a project with other people. I can think of the time that I need to lay down new flooring in our house due to a leaking old dishwasher. Not being a great handyman, I knew that I needed help or it would look really bad, take forever, and really not be any fun. So I called my dad, my father-in-law, and my brother-in-law and together we laid the floor that is now in our house. So there was definitely better return for our work.
Secondly, two is better than one because when you need help, there is someone there. As verse 10 says, “If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” That is the beauty of community. That when you hit the wall. When you are down and out. When you deal with a situation that you can’t handle alone, that is when true community steps up and is there for you. We can all probably remember situations where we were in a bad situation in our life, and someone was there to walk beside us, pray for us, love on us, and just be with us, and how it made all the difference. And we can all probably remember a time in our lives when we were all alone and had no one to help us up, to love us, to walk beside us. Bottom line, we need each other. Everybody needs someone.
Thirdly, the writer says that 2 is better than 1 because there is comfort in two. Verse 11 says, “Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?” We can bring comfort to each other in time of affliction, struggle, pain and loss. We can be a salve on a wound. To bring wholeness, healing, life, and warmth to each other’s lives as well as others in our world, that we have relationship with. Whether they know Jesus or not. That community extends beyond the border of our Christian community and extends to all people who have the image of God within them. So that in a very real way all people are our brother’s and sister’s. And we need to really see people in that light. And when we do, that will change the way we engage with people.
Lastly, the writer says that 2 is better than 1 because there is safety and security in 2. “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves” You can’t have your own back, you actually need someone else to have your back.
Who has your back? Who will help you when you are down? When you feel cold and alone who will come and help warm you up? We need to be that for each other and for the hurting world. A Talmud saying says it like this, “A man without a companion is like the left hand without the right.” So my prayer for us is that we would experience at Veritas the reality that two is better than one.
But we can’t forget that, as a community of Faith, centered on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, that we aren’t just two. In a real way we are three. Verse 12 puts it this way, “a cord of three strands is not easily broken.” That we can’t forget the most important ingredient in the life of a community of faith, that Jesus is in the midst and is the third strand.
You see this last verse is commonly understood that the third cord is God himself. And that a relationship intertwined with God is a threefold cord that is not quickly broken. The writer is making the statement that the strength of a 3-ply cord was proverbial in the ancient world. Think of it this way. Think of our relationship with each other as our favorite shape, a triangle. There are three sides to a triangle and at the top of the triangle is God, and at the bottom 2 sides are our relationship with each other. As we develop our relationship with God, the closer we get to God, we actually get closer to each other. That as Jesus so rightly put that loving God is intertwined with loving each other/neighbor. A Community, like Veritas, needs to realize that two is better than 1 but three is of utmost importance. We need to not just see community formation as between people, but that when we are a community of follower’s of Jesus, that Jesus is in the midst of our relationships. In the midst of relationships with each other but also in the midst of our relationship with each and every person that we encounter, no matter where they are in their spiritual journey.
But what does it look like for a community to be a cord of 3 strands? How can Veritas live in such a way that we are about the work of community formation, between people no matter where they are on their faith journey? And what is God saying to us about our missional lives together? Those are the questions that we’ll turn to now and spend some time unpacking together.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, push back, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message? 2. But what does it look like for a community to be a cord of 3 strands? 3. Give us some concrete next steps for you and our community when it comes to the hard work of community formation? 4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it?