Summary: We need to encourage one another, because encouragement is a powerful tool to help one another persevere in faith.
Lately, we’ve been discussing what it means for the church to be a community, and how we can build and maintain a sense of community in the church. Why is this topic important? In our country, social bonds have been steadily eroding for the last forty years. People are less connected, less involved, less active in their communities. They participate less in organizations and groups of every kind than they did a generation ago. The “glue” that hold our society together, something academics call “social capital,” has been getting weaker and weaker.
I’ve been reading a book by Robert Putnam, a professor at Harvard. The book is called “Bowling Alone,” and in it, he documents the decline in community life in American over the last four decades. The title comes from a trivial but telling example: the percentage of adults who belong to a bowling league today is only about ¼ of what it was in the 1960’s. Other examples:
The percentage of people who volunteer in a political campaign – stuffing envelopes, making phone calls, going door to door – is today about half what it was in the late 1960’s.
Active membership in local clubs and organizations, like the PTA, has dropped by about half, percentage-wise, since the 1970’s.
People are visiting one another less frequently, having friends over for dinner less frequently, getting together to play cards less frequently.
In short, every objective measure of participation in civic life is declining.
Several causes have been suggested for this decline in community, such as television, suburban sprawl replacing neighborhoods, dual-career families. But that’s not our focus this morning. We’re not trying to correct society’s ills. Instead, I mention these facts to make two points:
First, there are forces in our society which are pulling people apart, isolating them, making it more difficult for them to come together in community. And we as a church in this society, in America at the beginning of the 21st century, are subject to those same forces. We have to work intentionally at building and maintaining community within the church, or these same forces will separate us and isolate us from one another as well. We are rowing against the current of our culture; if we do nothing, we will get swept downstream.
Second, we have an opportunity. Although the level of connectedness between people in our society has dropped, their need for connectedness has not. God made us social beings; people are still hungry for fellowship. And as they see our community, our love for one another, our care and concern and support for one another, they will want that for themselves. They will want to be a part of that. And we will have the opportunity to introduce them to Jesus Christ. Because it is through our connection with Jesus Christ that we are connected to one another. Our common union with Him produces our union with each other.
So far in this series, we’ve looked at building community through mutual forbearance, putting up with one another’s faults and failings. We’ve looked at building community through serving one another. We’ve looked at the importance of seeking peace and unity with one another. And this morning, we’re going to be looking at the power of encouragement in strengthening the bonds of love that hold us together.