Experiencing Community (by Joel Butcher)
I had been in Vancouver for a week. I was jetlagged, lonely and missing home. I was confused about why I had decided to move here (to study at Regent College) and felt that God was pretty far away. And so when it came to Sunday, I was longing for something that felt normal. Having been to a Vineyard church in Scotland for four years, I thought I might as well try this random Vineyard church plant I’d heard about on the interweb.
Within five minutes of entering Insoo and Angela’s home, I was eating, chatting and laughing with a group of down-to-earth people. Someone took the mick out of me for my English accent. It felt like a safe place. It felt like home.
I decided there and then that this was likely the church where I wanted to serve and to be served. Sunday evening is the time I look forward to each week, and not just because I get to eat a lot of food. As I spend the rest of the week pretending to be very intellectual with a load of other students acting in a similar fashion, it is refreshing each week to come together with a diverse group of people, who know that they don’t have it all together, but yet are seeking greater intimacy with God and with one another.
We eat together. We discuss our dreams for our community. We read and discuss the Bible together, asking what God’s Word is saying to us now and what we’re going to do about it. We worship together. And we pray for and encourage anyone in need of prayer and support. (And then we eat some more.)
Never before have I been part of something with such an emphasis on “we.” I often think that Christianity is primarily about me and God: how can I live for God? What does God think about me? Yes, God is most important, but I often come a close second. With Life Church, there is a strong emphasis on community. How can I serve others, those within our community but also those whom our community exists to serve? How can I learn from those around me? How can I encourage my sister or brother to pursue Christ with greater intimacy?
Of course, the Christian faith is a personal faith too. Just glance at the Bible and you’ll see the importance of personal faith and response to God, and how God pursues the individual. But we can easily elevate that personal aspect of our faith and forget that we are meant to be one body, with the purpose of reaching “unity in the faith,” as Paul wrote to the Ephesian church. Let’s not forget that Paul was writing the majority of his letters to a community, using the pronoun “y’all,” not “you.” It’s therefore a privilege to be part of a community where we are pursuing God together.
That said, we are also asking the question: “how can I follow Jesus more closely as an individual?” Just this week the guys in our community started a 60-day discipleship journey. We have thus started to think about how we, as individuals, can prioritise the pursuit of Jesus in our lives. But, importantly, that pursuit is framed within community. As I seek to become Jesus’ follower in every aspect of my life, I am encouraged by and prayed for by my brothers who are also trying to do the same thing. What a privilege.
As just alluded to, Life Church is not just about the Sunday evening time together. As well as the discipleship journey, the women are meeting together every other week for spiritual formation. We have community pub nights, where we sit upstairs in the local pub and share a drink together. What is special about these nights is that we are regularly joined by those living in Olympic Village who have little experience of church or knowledge about Christ. Just the other day, I was having a beer with a French guy, not about anything special (predominantly just him laughing at my attempts to pronounce different French pastries). At the end of the night, he thanked me for chatting and said that, in the month since moving to Vancouver, this was the most welcome he had felt. Now, I hadn’t done anything remarkable, but because of this community night, and the fact that members of Life Church went out of their way to invite people, I was able to help someone feel more at home, more welcome, in their new environment.
Another exciting Life Church constant is the English Conversation nights, where members of our Church meet with those wanting to improve their English. And they just chat. Sounds simple, but we’re already seeing the fruit. One of those who went along is a guy called Chu. Originally from Taiwan, and now studying English in Vancouver, Chu started going to these English Conversation nights. He kept coming, and also started coming to our community gatherings. After a few weeks, Insoo asked him why he kept coming back. “I like the people,” was Chu’s response. Chu was one of three to be baptised in the rather-chilly ocean in September. What a privilege to be part of a community where this is happening
As should be evident from what I’ve wrote above, this is a community that is both welcoming and challenging. Of course, there are going to be challenges going forward, as there have been many challenges so far. But, and please forgive the cliché, I am excited to be part of that journey.
I am also excited to learn from our leaders, Insoo and Angela, and Amy and Brent. Whilst only knowing them for a month, I can see clearly that they are the real deal. That does not mean that they are perfect Christians who never make mistakes. I have heard enough about their stories to know that’s not the case. But I do know that they don’t just talk the proverbial talk, but they also walk the walk. They talk about loving those in our community, those we meet on the street. That part is easy: I’ve talked like that for years. But here’s the thing: they actually go out and do it. They spend their weeks meeting people, inviting them to events and to fellowship, praying with and for them. I have met numerous people so far and when I ask “why did you come to this event?” they respond “I bumped into Amy at a food festival and started chatting,” or “Insoo asked if I wanted to come to the pub.” They extend hospitality beyond the realms of the building we currently call our “church.”
Knowing that these are the leaders whom we are following gives me confidence. Not confidence that everything will go perfectly smoothly or anything like that. But a confidence that God is using these leaders to equip a group of people to follow Jesus, to be his hands and his feet in our area of Vancouver. What a privilege that is.
So please pray that God would continue to work in and through our community by his Holy Spirit and that God would equip our leaders to keep following God’s direction in obedience and humility.
Thank you for reading.