I have heard a similar question asked to gauge our missional impact on our community. If your local church suddenly disappeared would the community notice? Would they feel the impact of you leaving? If the answer to that is “no” then it likely won’t be long until you actually do close the doors to your church.
But I’d like to frame the question a little bit differently. If your local church disappeared would you notice. On one level this question is rather absurd. Of course, you’d notice if the place you go on Sunday’s was no longer open to you. You would most certainly notice. But I’m asking a different question. How would it impact your life? I know it’d jack with your Sunday’s and maybe your Wednesday’s but what would it do to your Monday or Thursday?
I believe we can gauge the health of a church by also asking this question. When the gospel really does work in a community and in a body of believers it does far more than just kickstart their Sunday morning service. It does something to the way that group of people does life.
In 1 Thessalonians when Paul prays that their “love would increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else” he certainly has unbelievers within his sight. But his principle aim is that their love for one another would grow.
Marianne Meye Thompson says it well:
The Christian community is the school in which we learn to love. Like great musicians who practice tedious drills for long hours, Christians practice their scales at home in order to sing in public. In the community love is commanded and modeled, and here is where it must be lived out and practiced. This does not mean that love is limited to the boundaries of the community. But if the community does not live by the model and teaching of its founder, Jesus, how can it expect others to do so or to hear its call to join with them?
There is a good chance that you aren’t rightly loving your unbelieving community if you aren’t deeply loving your believing community. We can talk much about “reaching the lost” and focusing our attention there, and that is right and good. But that can also be a ploy to keep us from truly loving the real people that God has already brought into our fellowship. It’s easy to love imaginary “prospects” who are “out there” it’s quite another to love a real person right in front of your face.
You aren’t going to be able to love the world, sacrifice for unbelievers, be engaged in radical mission even if it means suffering if you cannot love your fellow believers. I also like how Mark Dever says this:
We demonstrate to the world that we have been changed, not primarily because we memorize Bible verses, pray before meals, tithe a portion of our income, and listen to Christian radio stations, but because we increasingly show a willingness to put up with, to forgive, and even to love a bunch of fellow sinners.
This is why things like church membership and being connected and dedicated to a local body of believers is important. It’s one thing to say, “ah, I love people. I love everybody.” But if you aren’t able to actually plant yourself down and love a group of fellow believers then you’re just talking. Again I turn to Dever:
If your goal is to love all Christians, let me suggest working toward it by first committing to a concrete group of real Christians with all their foibles and follies. Commit to them through thick and think for eighty years. Then come back and we’ll talk about your progress in loving all Christians everywhere.
When God saves someone, when Jesus really comes to town what you’ll see is an increase of love towards one another. You’ll see believers loving—1 Corinthians 13 type of love—towards one another.