The other day we were asked a challenging question, which lead to a community culture conversation: What was most responsible for the growth that you experienced overseas in Guinea?
We had never thought about defining an overruling factor before. Of course, there have been umpteen challenges, growth points and stretching factors that we regularly highlight. But which had the most impact?
We found ourselves having a conversation as a team in front of our church audience that night, evaluating this question. The result? In a fashion, we each found ourselves approaching each other and naming one another responsible for our growth.
When we boarded an aeroplane in October, our families’ expectations were that we were flying the nest and becoming independent. Our western culture models independence as the ideal lifestyle, forgetting community culture. Yet little did we know that as we held hands on take off, prayed for a safe flight and left all things comfortable, we were about to become the most dependent we had ever been…
We depend on the body of Christ. Alone, we could not and would not have navigated a new culture, a wave of hardships and incredible joy. It was impossible. We left our familiarity but held onto each other, strengthening one another and running at God together in all that we did. We ate together, prayed together, worked together, read books together, studied God’s word together, worshipped together, lived under the same roof… One of our team values was “laugh together, cry together.”
Depending on each other was crucial.
Speaking of a new culture, the greatest change was switching from, “me,” to, “we.” In fact, when we claim to speak French, we can actually only conjugate the “nous” form! We never used, “I,” or “she,” throughout our six months. In Guinea you just don’t speak individually. Everything is about community. The things you do affect whole neighbourhoods and what you speak, you speak on behalf of your family or tribe. Community culture is quite literally the opposite of British lifestyle, where everyone thinks for themselves and actions don’t affect others.
The craziest thing is that we never questioned this. Somehow, we automatically switched into the community culture and it felt natural.
When we apply this to faith we see something greater. The Guinean church will never talk about, “my faith,” or say, “this is what I believe,” as we do in the west. Instead the church will always talk about, “our faith,” proclaiming, “this is what we believe!” Faith is not an individual belief or opinion. No, it’s a system of hearts coming together, abandoning certain individual values that misalign and pursuing the values and beliefs that Christ set, together.
This is the body of Christ that Apostle Paul talks about in the bible. This is a body of people from different backgrounds and tribes, coming together, to journey onwards. Prayer in Guinea is not individual either, but collective. Christians meet regularly (if not daily) to pray together and build one another up. They have not yet achieved the goal. At times tribal culture may cause disagreements but as a community they uplift this to God and make one kingdom decision together. In times of trouble, the body of Christ come alongside each other and depend upon one another for strength. Perhaps neither knows the answer but living alongside each other, they can try to move onwards as one.
Imagine if this was the vision of the western church today. Imagine if we lived together in a community culture – what would that look like? Would it be open doors, shared houses, a redefinition of the word, “family?” Perhaps we would scrap the “this is what I believe,” statements and move towards, “this is what the bible says we should believe and so let’s pursue it together.”
As a team this is something we are exploring together and are passionate about. Whilst we do not yet know the answers, we are eager to journey together and wait upon God to see just how and where He will use us to build his kingdom in this way. We don’t believe that there is space in the kingdom of heaven for lonely individuals or huge theological disagreements. In our advancing individualistic nation, it’s devastating to see division over what certain parts of the bible mean or how a church should “do church.”
For the church is not a group of individuals using the same theology to live their own lives. The church is a body of people who come together, believe in one God, lay down their own lives and move forwards together, as one multitude of kingdom builders. A body who hear the truth and share it. A community culture.