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Forming a Community of the Spirit: Hospitality, Fellowship, and Nurture, Part 2 of 2, by Steven M. Fettke

A life of compassion must be nurtured. This can only be done in the midst of hurt and pain, where wisdom is inaccessible to self-pity. God does not answer our self-pitying request but our need for unselfing. He enters our lives and provides prophet and priest to lead us into and through the wilderness of temptation and trial. Only then can we learn the ways of providence and discover the means of grace—a long, difficult, mercy-marked, grace-guided forty years that represents the middle of the journey for persons who live by faith. It is a journey through which we learn personal morality and social responsibility. Salvation is put to the work of building community, engaging in worship, encountering evil.50

Concluding Remarks

There are no secret or mystical formulas by which a nurturing community might be formed. It will require humble people who truly value what a nurturing community can provide, and value it above all else.

Many believers would agree that their congregations should be more oriented to hospitality, fellowship, and loving nurture; however, just how these things are accomplished is the great mystery. I could outline some strategies by which such things might occur, but the reality is that no one congregation is the same and “cookie-cutter” approaches to ministry are usually not successful in every place.

To get believers to focus more on hospitality, fellowship, and loving nurture might mean extended prayer sessions, a call for fasting and prayer, a challenge to the congregation by both pastor and lay leaders to reorient their lives by these concerns, or all of the above. The whole church must ask itself, corporately and individually: What is the true focus of this congregation? What is the true focus of my life of faith?

A loving, nurturing community should be the natural product of Spirit-enabled fellowship.

The reality might be that many congregations just do not want change to occur; they are very comfortable with things just as they are, thank you very much. Angie Ward has written about this attitude which she discovered after she and her husband began their ministry right out of seminary at an older, established church.51

While that church on the surface valued outreach, character, and innovation, the no-rocking ethos meant that its actual directive was “Don’t offend anyone; don’t take risks; and don’t deal with hidden sin.” It took more than three years for us to figure this out, by repeated trial and error, but also by looking at our church’s history, the personalities of its leaders, and even the culture of our surrounding community.52

She learned that believers resisted change with great fervor. They had become comfortable in the way things were and did not want to take any risks, make any changes. What was Ward’s advice about this?

Culture takes a long time to create, and even longer to change. Melting the tip of the iceberg does not eliminate the ice below the waterline. But in any church, the first step toward creating a healthy culture is identifying the existing ethos, whether positive or negative.53

iceberg from WikiMedia Commons

Considering the hidden core values of the congregation might be the first step towards melting the iceberg of resistance to change.

Naturally, “melting the iceberg” can be a strenuous and often painful process. People will cling desperately to their old ways because change can be frightening and require from believers more than they are ready to give. Indeed, Ward reported in her article that she and her husband were unable to make the needed changes in that church; however, in their next pastorate, they were able to recognize the unstated core values and begin right away to make important changes. Nevertheless, those changes came slowly.

From spiritual growth to evangelism to giving to ministry, a church that was founded as a safe place for those wounded by religion became a place for long-time Christians to be comfortable and inactive. Changing that culture, of course, is an ongoing process. Slowly, but surely, our church is beginning to reflect a renewed purpose of “Life-changing relationships with God, with each other, and with the world around us.”54

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Category: Ministry, Spring 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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