Years ago I seem to remember reading an article or a book – I don’t remember which it was any more – like many thoughts and ideas that become a part of you, you don’t always recount well how they got there and how they shaped your own thinking and development on a matter. The author was commenting on the long history of the church and in particular those Christians who began to live in cloistered communities in pursuit of loving God and loving others. The salient point the author was trying to make was how those who chose be in community with each other had actually “outlived” the people around them. The author’s call to the church, and to me, was this: given both the pluralistic and competitive nature of the culture we live in today, and in order to be a successful witness in our age, we are called to “out-live” our neighbors in order to “win” them for sake of Christ and the Gospel.
I wonder now, a few years older, the impact the author’s message had upon me as a younger man entering the ministry and seeking to be successful within it. And I wondered, not just about me, but about its impact upon others in the church as well.
As I reflected today upon the author’s words years ago I cannot help but think my response would be very different from what it was then. First, I do not believe those who gathered themselves in close community did so with any awareness of competition with others – of pursuing or being “better than” the values and beliefs of those around them. Nor do I believe in their living well, the gathered believers would in turn elevate a superiority of beliefs and lifestyle above others.
Rather, more simply and I think more profoundly, the goal of the community they established was to live in this world in a deeply spiritual way; and in living in a deeply spiritual way they lived wholly and fully with God and with others. They practiced caring for the sick and for the needs of others around them. They educated and taught people from what they themselves had learned, both in scripture, as well as the trades and crafts they developed. They learned how to be with each other during times of conflicts and misunderstandings. In all, they learned to give and minister from a place of true humility – a place of first having received everything they possessed from the hand of God. In receiving from God they gave of themselves; to their neighbors, villages and the surrounding places people lived and moved. What they passed on to succeeding generations and to us, was not to be found chiefly in their methods and programs or aims for living successfully, being a successful witness to others, but more simply and genuinely, living in this world in a deeply spiritual way- in love with God and others. There is much to be learned by not setting success or being successful first.