by: Mike Seaman, Church Planter
When you’re first in line at a red light in downtown Toronto and you need to get into the left lane because there’s street parking in the right lane just 15 metres ahead, the manner in which you jump off the line in the first 5 metres makes a big difference. In the same way, when you’re planting a church, revitalizing a community, or seeking change in an existing church, the First 5 are crucial. First Peter 3:8 gives us the First 5 for crafting community:
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.
When we started Trinity Life Church, we wanted to gather people in genuine Christian community. It’s a shame that we have to use ‘genuine’ as a qualifier, but I think in a city of loneliness, isolation, and superficiality it’s necessary. And to qualify community as Christian is important because Christian community is unique. We don’t do all things well at Trinity Life, but we have community like I’ve never experienced before. Here are the First 5 reasons why:
This characteristic of the body of Christ is not merely an insular unity that excludes, but an evangelistic unity that seeks to include. Unity is perhaps the most misunderstood trait of community in the Church, but also the most foundational (cf. Eph 4:3-6). The emphasis on unity doesn’t end at our local body or at our denomination, but it’s a Kingdom unity that seeks cooperation with other churches in our city, with other organizations in our city, and with our city itself. When we have a Kingdom mentality, unity becomes an exclusive characteristic of the Church that is paradoxically attractive to those outside the Church.
This feature of Christian community refers to deferentially seeing things from the other’s point of view. Sympathy/understanding at times requires dying to our preferences for the sake of the other (cf. Phil 2:4). This means that a member of the community of faith as the family of God seeks justice for others in the same way they would seek justice for themselves. Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltke profoundly says,
The tzadiq [just] are willing to disadvantage themselves to advantage the community; the wicked are willing to disadvantage the community to advantage themselves.
If we are to seek and usher in God’s justice as a community of faith, we need to continually die to ourselves for the sake of the other, for the sake of those in our city, for the sake of Christ.
3) Brotherly Love
We all have the same Father, both inside the Church and outside the Church. It’s our gift to experience genuine community with those who recognize this life-transforming Truth. It’s also our privilege to model, express, and call our cities into experiencing this life-transforming Truth. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another…. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34).
4) A Tender Heart
Mercy. Compassion. Empathy. Benevolence. Healthy Intestines. Wait…what?! Yes, that would be the literal translation of this word! It’s a strong familial term that refers to feeling something in your gut, in your core. When’s the last time you showed mercy or empathized with another to the extent that you felt it in your core? For most of us, it’s been far too long. How does our community of faith embody these qualities? We become more like Christ. How do we become more like Christ? We act on these qualities. We give more joyously, we serve more sacrificially, we remember how undeserving we are, we weep over our cities like Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44).
What does true humility look like? Peter, observing the example of our Lord, makes this clear. It looks like blessing those who curse us (1 Pet 3:9), being zealous for good (1 Pet 3:10-14), honouring Christ (1 Pet 3:15a), defending the hope that is within us (1 Pet 3:15b), and suffering for righteousness’ sake (1 Pet 3:16-17). We don’t just humble ourselves before our brothers and sisters or just before the world. Humility is only genuine if it is holistic, otherwise it’s just feigned modesty. Our Lord Jesus humbled Himself to draw all nations to Himself in order to gather and prepare His bride. In the same manner, we humble ourselves so that God would exalt us and others would be drawn into the presence of the Father.
The First 5—unity, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, humility—aren’t unique characteristics on their own distinguishing us from the cities that surround us. What makes them unique, what makes them truly genuine, is the Spirit’s work within us. The great missionary-theologian Roland Allen says this about the missionary-theologian Apostle Paul:
He believed in the Holy Ghost, not merely vaguely as a spiritual Power, but as a Person indwelling his converts. He believed therefore in his converts. He could trust them. He did not trust them because he believed in their natural virtue or intellectual sufficiency. If he had believed in that, his faith must have been sorely shaken. But he believed in the Holy Ghost in them.
If you want to see the formation of genuine community, you need to begin believing in the Holy Spirit in people.