(Part 2 of some reflections on living in intentional Christian community)
Psalm 101 is a song about the way that a king like King David, a ruler with a “heart after God’s own heart”, should rule.
But as I read it, the other morning, it struck me as a good prayer for those living in – and especially for those leading – a Christian community.
So here are a few very brief, very undeveloped, starting points for thought on leading a Christian community – from Psalm 101.
I will sing of steadfast love and justice; to you, O LORD, I will make music.
Any Christian community must spring out of worship. It must start from a heart response to God’s “steadfast love and justice”. If it starts from idealism, or legalism, or any “ism”, good or bad, it will not be true Christian community. Any leader of a Christian community must be a leader in worship. I don’t mean a guitarist or and organist. I mean that the first task of a leader in Christian community is continually to call the community back to God.
I will ponder the way that is blameless. Oh when will you come to me?
Having dismissed idealism – there must be at least of a dash of holy idealism – pondering and longing for “the way that is blameless”. Otherwise, Christian community, to misquote Chesterton, will not be tried and found wanting; it will be found difficult and not tried. Community is not realistic. As I said in my last post, it is impossible. But oh! I long for it. I’ll pursue it. I’ll live it. (Let the miracle begin.)
I will walk with integrity of heart within my house.
Leaders have to be the same through and through. No double standards, no hidden compartments. I find the word “integrity” shines a light inside me, searches out the darker corners. It’s uncomfortable. I need it.
I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.
And here’s a good example of integrity made practical. Job made a covenant with his own eyes, not to fill his sights with filth. My friend, Laurence recently blogged on this, not once but twice. It’s vital a Christian community be uncontaminated by the rubbish that fills page and screen all too often in our media-soaked culture. I’m not talking about some Simeon style pillar of lofty separation. The right place for an ark is in the water. The wrong place for the water is in the ark. Do the math.
I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me.
Sometimes people walk away. Sometimes, it’s worse than that: people betray. One of the most challenging things about Christian community is to remain untainted by bitterness when people let you down. Not to let it “cling” to you. The danger is, you make a silent vow to yourself: “I will not love again”. This way lies the death of community.
A perverse heart shall be far from me; I will know nothing of evil.
“Perverse” – slippery. Some hearts you just can’t get hold of, like the bar of soap in the cartoon, they just keep slipping from your grasp. But community must be made from open, shared hearts. If hearts aren’t shared, in time nothing else will be either. A wise community leader must gently encourage the sharing of who we really are with one another. This can’t be forced. But a culture of trust will encourage it.
Whoever slanders his neighbour secretly I will destroy.
I’m fierce when it comes to gossip. People may as well set the house physically on fire. Gossip is as destructive. More so, in fact, because it tears down souls. “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire.” I will stamp out gossip from our community. Woe betide the person I catch at it!
Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart I will not endure.
Perhaps it goes without saying that pride and Christian community cannot mix. But I’ll say it anyway: pride and Christian community cannot mix.
I will look with favour on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; he who walks in the way that is blameless shall minister to me.
It is a commonplace that a leader must be a servant in Christian community. And that is true. But a leader must also allow himself to be served. That too is humble. And a deep appreciation of the “faithful in the land” (not necessarily the famous) is important.
No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes.
Deceit vies with gossip for the “public enemy number one” position when it comes to building community. Suffice it to say, that anyone fluent in the “devil’s native language” is unlikely to build the community of Christ. They need to learn the language of truth, openness and humility.
Morning by morning I will destroy all the wicked in the land, cutting off all the evildoers from the city of the LORD.
Not the kind of declaration very likely to elicit the response “Nice sermon, vicar”. Yet I’ve been relearning the importance of zeal. Zeal for God’s house. Not tramping around the place like the police. But unafraid to confront. To lead. Because once you’ve glimpsed the “city of the Lord”, the purity of God’s new kingdom society – it matters too much to settle for something shoddy.