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Forming a Community of the Spirit: Hospitality, Fellowship, and Nurture, Part 1



Gods-Empowered-People

This chapter is an excerpt from Steven M. Fettke, God’s Empowered People: A Pentecostal Theology of the Laity (Wipf & Stock 2011). Read Part 2 in the Spring 2012 issue of Pneuma Review.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love (1 John 4:7–8).

“Community … cannot grow out of loneliness, but comes when the person who begins to recognize his or her belovedness greets the belovedness of the other. The God alive in me greets the God resident in you. When people can cease having to be for us everything, we can accept the fact they may still have a gift for us. They are partial reflections of the great love of God, but reflections nevertheless … We see him or her as a limited expression of an unlimited love.

To live and serve and worship with others thereby brings us to a place where we come together and remind each other by our mutual interdependence that we are not God, that we cannot meet our own needs, and that we cannot completely fulfill each other’s needs. There is something wonderfully humbling and freeing about this. For we find a place where people give one another grace. That we are not God does not mean that we cannot mediate (if in a limited way) the unlimited love of God. Community is the place of joy and celebration where we are willing to say, ‘Yes, we have begun to overcome in Christ.’ Such is the victory of the Cross.

Gratitude springs from an insight, a recognition that something good has come from another person, that it is freely given to me, and meant as a favor. And at the moment this recognition dawns on me, gratitude spontaneously arises in my heart.”1

An Invitation to Loving Hospitality

So many believers have organized their lives in such a way that the busy activities of modern life have prevented them from fully engaging their faith in ways that involve a faithful community. Often, a “fast food” approach to the faith has meant that believers quickly complete as many “vital” activities as possible during their busy week so that they might fit in all of them. Usually, this means that so many important things—family meals, times for reflection and prayer, meaningful time for building a strong faith community—get shortchanged in the midst of frantic and hectic schedules. If there are to be faith communities constructed around the offer of loving hospitality and acceptance of all people regardless of their social, economic, racial, or mental background, or their status, or abilities, then that effort takes careful and concerted effort. It will require significant amounts of time, time that modern Western believers might not be willing to give.

Hectic schedules have made so many modern believers exhausted and burned out from all they think they have to do just in the normal routines of their lives, not to mention the busy activities often planned by and through their local church. This has often led in turn to ministry burnout. It is also true that creating a loving and hospitable faith community can involve tedious yet necessary tasks: someone has to open the church on Sunday morning and start the air conditioning or heat; someone has to make sure repairs to the church building are made; someone has to deal with the confused and rebellious teens in middle school; someone has to attend to the elderly, the infirm, the troubled. A loving, nurturing community does not spring up to full possibility, maturity, and genuine welcome to all without people engaging in some hard, sometimes tedious, but always essential work. Most would rather leave the hard work to others, and some tasks seem so mundane and useless that one can get discouraged and want to give up.

A young monk once spent months at a monastery helping to weave a tapestry. One day, he rose from his bench in disgust: “I can’t do this any longer,” he exclaimed. “My directions make no sense. I have been working with a bright-yellow thread, and suddenly I’m to knot and cut it short for no reason. What a waste.”

“My son,” said an older monk, “you are not seeing the tapestry correctly. You are sitting at the back, working on only one spot.” He led the younger monk to the front of the tapestry, hanging stretched in the large workroom, and the novice gasped. He had been weaving a beautiful picture—the three kings paying homage to the Christ child—his yellow thread was part of the gleaming halo around the baby’s head. What had seemed wasteful and senseless was actually magnificent.

Creating community, any kind of community, is fraught with pitfalls—human pride, human indifference, “busyness,” work and family overload, and resistance to the completion of the tedious and mundane. Any community-creating has to be intentional, arising from fervent prayer and trust that the Spirit will make possible for diverse people a community of truth, love, and learning despite human selfishness and personal agendas for success or happiness. Thus, any effort on the part of believers to create a loving community of hospitality will have to include a focused intentionality and energy on the part of all.2 Otherwise, believers will just meet to be meeting, going through the motions and not really meaning it. Such an atmosphere of indifference and fiction would not be worth the time expended.

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Category: Ministry, Winter 2012

About the Author: Steven M. Fettke, M.Div. (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary), Th.M., D.Min. (Columbia Theological Seminary), is Professor of Religion at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida. He was awarded the Delta Alpha Distinguished Educator Award by the Alliance for Assemblies of God Higher Education in 2009. He is the author of Messages to a Nation in Crisis: An Introduction to the Prophecy of Jeremiah (1982).

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