As a chunk of charcoal rolled down from the top of the heap, one of the guys there piped up and said that this is what happens to the Christian who separates themselves from the body of Christ. “It turns cold,” he said. This was said by a man I barely knew at a bonfire I was at once over ten years ago. That statement has stuck with me all this time. He was so right. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.
In my experience, a local congregation can be divided into three groups based on involvement. I do wish to clarify that no one group is better than the other, and no one is destined to be a part of the same group forever. Also, I am not promoting division among brethren, either. One of my favorite passages in regards to unity is found in Ephesians chapter 4. Ephesians 4:1-6 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
Those three groups can best be described in this way: the core, the outer fringe, and every one in between. The core group is made up of those who are always busy in a congregation. They are always there. Only a plague of some kind can keep them away from worship. The outer fringe consists of those who we rarely see. They might show up on Sunday; they might not. For whatever reason they don’t seem as dedicated as the core does. Then, there are those in between. Some are in transition. They are on their way from leaving the outer fringe and into the core, or vise versa. Some are maturing spiritually, and have come to a point of wanting to do more, to be more involved with God and His people. Some have been a part of the core for a while and are getting burned out. So, instead of just backing off a bit to recharge, they go to the extreme and enter into the outer fringe for good. Others tend to teeter back and forth. They spend some time in the core as well as in the outer fringe. Heavily involved at times, and at other times, hardly involved at all. Many are doing what they can, when they can, with what they have been blessed with. Sacrifices are made here and there, but much fun is had as well. A healthy balance is found in serving the Lord and the brethren.
My aim is not for us to spend so much time looking around and classifying others in one category or another. It could be that those who we might label as part of the outer fringe are more devoted and dedicated than we are, it’s just that we don’t see it in a public way. They work more for the Lord behind the scenes. It could also be that some we consider to be in the core group do what they do for the wrong reasons. They could be motivated by guilt and have convinced themselves that they must earn their way into heaven. What will benefit all of us more is to do some self-examination. “What group do I currently identify with the most, and is this where God wants me to be?” If we are extremely dedicated, but on the verge of losing it, or are angry, maybe we should back off some in order to reevaluate and recharge. Remember, this is all in regards to activity and involvement among the brethren. I am in no way advocating taking a break from the Lord. What I am recommending is that if we are at the brink of burn-out, that we take a breather so that we can pray and study more; be reminded of what, or who, all this is for. It’s not a permanent vacation we seek, but a vacation nonetheless. This could be anywhere from a few hours, a day or two, or as much as a week or more. If we are not careful, we can get lost in our service. The danger we face is allowing a few days or weeks to snowball into months or even years. The whole purpose of this “vacation” is so that we can come back ready to serve better, and with a better attitude than we had before.
As part of the outer fringe myself for quite a while, there was a time when I was intimidated by those I labeled as being a part of the core. This was another one of Satan’s lies I figured out, core doesn’t always equal hardcore. When deciding to preach full-time, this was a concern of mine. Would the core group accept me? With open arms I soon experienced. I learned that it was all in my head. The core has been given a bad rap, and so has the outer fringe. It’s not that I didn’t want to be more involved before; it had more to do with feeling unqualified. Those who identify more with the core can become so task driven, that training is overlooked. Someone who takes the time to be patient and show a rookie the ropes in a loving and caring way goes a long way. It helps those who may seem uninterested, who are actually just intimidated, to feel more comfortable and confident in that they can still be who they are, but serve the Lord more than they had been before.
If I am to be totally honest, my interest level was not what it should have been at times. For me, being on the outer fringe and guilty of not doing much for the Lord privately, I realized that I was susceptible to Satan’s attack. I was like that piece of charcoal that rolled off the heap…cold and alone. When a lion attacks its prey, it goes for the small, weak, and frail ones who are off to the side not well guarded or protected. We want to be a strand closely intertwined with other strands so that we are not easily broken. Think of a single strand of hair that can easily be pulled in two, but a braid of hair can’t be torn in half no matter how hard it is pulled.
Hopefully, I have accomplished the task of promoting unity and not division. My aim was to point out that there are dangers to be aware of whether we identify more with the core group, relate more to the outer fringe, or we lie somewhere in between. Our goal as a congregation is to eliminate the appearance of any kind of group. If the outer fringe will become more devoted and dedicated, and the core less hardcore and intimidating, we will all be heading in the direction of unity. There will no longer be those who feel that they are pulling the weight of others less dedicated, as well as no more feelings of intimidation by those who are scared to stick their nose in where it does belong. If the proverb is true, Proverbs 27:17 Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another, we cannot sharpen others or be sharpened if we are not working together. Also, if we sharpen each other in haste, we can slip and cut the other. Neither of these is what God wants. Let’s work together so that the only group that can be seen is a church made up of Christians…just Christians.
~ Chris Melton