In recent visits to projects in Sierra Leone I was struck by how each had a sense of extended family among the people (often with disabilities or other challenges) involved. It became clear to us that they worked as family together, rooted in Jesus.
Westerners can struggle to replicate this because our culture conditions us to be about ourselves as an individual. It fuels a false narrative that tells us that if we join a community, it is to 'serve my needs'. For a Christian community, like those we visited, the true narrative is that the community shapes my life - as a place I engage with and invest in, I discover it to be a place where I grow.
Many Africans have a word for this: "Ubuntu" - the concept that who we are is enriched by those around us. Yet remember that any growth requires effort and challenges. A community may rightly make demands of us and hold us accountable.
In a church context we might therefore ask not 'What is my spiritual gift?', but instead the key question below:
Key Qn: [IN] How am I a gift to this community?
Challenge: Get to know someone different to you
This question is not answered by ourselves up front, but is instead answered for us by the community around us as we engage with it and it affirms us. We discover the answer along the journey! By giving ourselves to the community in this way, we in fact discover that the community is indeed an enriching place for us. It is a 2-way street - so our primary question to newcomers is not 'What can you do for us here?' (e.g. what rota slots might you fill!), but rather 'in joining how can we support you in your missionary discipleship?' (where is your missional edge - how might we support you in that?).
And as a church we also realise there is a wider community around us across the city - not a community to serve our needs, but one we are called to give ourselves to, even allowing it to potentially shape us. By being open to the diversity and difference out there, God may enrich us further. Surely this is the ethos in incarnational mission: just as Jesus came and ministered in a particular context, it undoubtedly shaped his ministry - though itdid not submerge it. Accordingly we should have an openness to the wider community, hence the challenge to get to know someone different to you.
This sense of community resonates with our 2nd discipleship habit 'Share the Walk'. As a church we encourage this on three levels: get into a prayer partnership or triple, consider joining a small group, and our whole church events (Sunday worship, prayer events, and members meetings). Note in the passage v25 the call to continue meeting. The word 'habit' in Greek is 'ethos', so can be 'mindset'. Sadly I have met people over the years who haven't so much fallen out of the habit of meeting, but seem to have adopted the mindset (or habit) of not meeting.
The Message translation for the passage says 'Lets do this'! Not because it is a good idea but because of a fundamental - because of Jesus. V19 makes clear that because of Jesus we can enter the most intimate place with God - our bodies become that place of worship. When we form community together, we coalesce as a body to be an even greater place of worship! That worship is not simply static, but looks forward - since we are a people of hope (v23). Our roots are in Christ, and being in Christ in community is like being in rich fertile soil for resilience and growth.
So v24 is a call to spur one another on. To 'love and good works' neatly sums it up: to be like Jesus Himself (hence our 3rd habit - ever closer to Jesus) - God is love, and love works itself out in practical ways. And it all has direction - v25 calls the destination 'The Day', when meet Jesus face to face as he brings all history to its completion.
A New Testament image often used for this is a bride at a wedding. We all know a bride will make many preparations to be beautiful on the big day. In the same way our love and good works as a community are the preparations that we make for the big day! Working out our faith in community, so that we might be fully prepared, beautiful and radiant for us together to be with Jesus on the greatest of all wedding days.