Last Fall I read James Bryan Smith’s trilogy on Spiritual Formation. The Good and Beautiful God, The Good and Beautiful Life and The Good and Beautiful Community.
Smith begins the series with the exploration of who God is, then moves on to the Life we are called to and in the third book in the series….. the calling to community….that is…..our call to be a part of the Church. The terms “Good and Beautiful” suggest that God’s big idea has always been about involving all of creation in His project of setting to rights all that Satan has sought to disengage, dismantle and destroy. “Good and Beautiful” are terms which remind me of God’s own evaluation of Creation when He saw all that He had made and said, “it is good”.
In the Good and Beautiful Community, Smith reveals two conflicting narratives, one of which leads to disillusionment and spiritual anemia or the other which leads to a robust faith based upon accountability and encouragement. Here is a taste of Bryan’s insightful observations in his own words:
False Narrative: The community serves my needs. We live in a consumer culture. Each day we are treated as a customer, and this leads us to believe we are entitled to have all of our needs met. We have become spoiled…..While it may be true that treating churchgoers as consumers by trying to meet their stated needs may make them feel comfortable, by lowering our expectations of them as active participants we are decreasing the possibility of genuine transformation. p. 129
True Narrative: The good and beautiful community is not made of merely comfortable Christians but Christlike men and women growing in their life with God and each other. In order to become that kind of community we need a new narrative, a biblical narrative, to reshape our behavior. Here is the new narrative regarding the rights and responsibility of the community: The community exists to shape and guide my soul. The community has a right to expect certain behavior from me, and can provide the encouragement and accountability I need. p. 129
Smith’s ideas resonate with my own observations of how people become disillusioned with unrealistic expectations about what being in a church community is about. I have listened countless times to those who are ready to give up on church because “their needs are not being met” as if church is about providing proper “bang for the buck”.
While I agree that being in a church community should have benefits and meet needs, it has become far too commonplace that church members have fallen to the whims of what Smith terms “a consumer culture”. We have lost sight of the divine agenda of God to transform each us individually for His spiritual purposes. Collectively as the church, we are called to participate with God in his project of bringing renewal, restoration and redemption to a world desperate to be given hope.