Initially, I felt like an outsider. I was different to everybody else. I was from a different country. I spoke a different English. Most obvious of all? I looked different: my skin was a different colour. All of this was a totally new experience.
A few of us were visiting the Christian Cultural Centre in Brooklyn, N.J. and we were like fish out of water. Five white Australians amongst thousands of African Americans. We had visited other churches on our trip, but here the racial divide was more evident than ever.
I don’t recall wondering whether we would be accepted or not. I didn’t have time. We were greeted warmly, we walked in, found a seat, and the service began. As people sang they moved with the rhythm. Their gestures full of praise and emotion, lyric and feeling in one organic expression.
…we felt like we belonged
We had found seats among a throng of regulars. No great skills of perception were required for them to notice we were ‘from out of town’. None of that seemed to matter. And surprisingly, when we were encouraged to join prayer with the people around us, they drew us into their prayer and into their hearts like we were old family friends. They were sharing their struggles, their joys, their lives. We shared who we were, and some of the things on our heart, and they prayed for us like we were just one of them.
Here’s the thing: the fact that we were visitors was immaterial. Our different culture was invisible. Not an issue. Irrelevant. We were brothers and sisters in Christ, and for that hour we felt like we belonged. No one had to tell us we were welcome there, or to make ourselves at home, we were so warmly embraced, we were prayed for, we were loved, we were accepted. Community happened beyond any words that might have been spoken.
…when God’s Spirit is present, genuine community is formed
In the book of Acts, there are several key times when the church expands and receives people who had previously been on the outer. Samaritans are drawn in (Acts 8), as are non Jewish peoples (Acts 11). I know there’s debate about some of the ways the Holy Spirit is manifested in these passages, but I actually don’t think those things are the focus of those passages. The real point is when God’s Spirit is present, genuine community is formed. People who had been broken, marginalised, despised and forsaken are by this Spirit drawn into community. Jesus breaks down all those barriers, overcomes all the chaos, dissolves fear, people come together, and God’s new community is born.
A pentecost church is a church where new community thrives. Where people are drawn in and where they feel like family. Where barriers are crossed, and Jesus’ transformation bring people together. Restored. Accepted. Forgiven. Renewed.
Q: How could you bring the new community of Jesus to expression in your church?