As theological debates on sexuality and marriage become more and more central, many Christian denominations are being asked to clarify their views.
“You are never going to be a healthy community if you think of the church as a place”, says pastor Connie Duarte in an interview about how to live in community as the Body of Christ.
There are all kinds of communities, but what do healthy communities look like and "feel" like? What are their challenges, benefits and dangers? How can churches and leaders encourage community living in an ever independent Europe?
Connie Duarte studied both in the areas of missions and communication while living in Canada. In 1998, she moved to Portugal to work with university students.
After ten years with GBU (IFES) Portugal, Duarte began working with the Baptist Theological Seminary. Currently she is one of the pastors at Meeting Point, a Baptist church in Estoril, Portugal.
In an interview with the European Leadership Forum, Duarte defined the foundations and models of a Christian community, and analysed how can Christians live so that local church would become a healthy community.
“GOD DID NOT CREATE COMMUNITY, HE IS COMMUNITY”
Connie Duarte believes that “the foundations of a Christian community come right out of our concept of Trinity, which we see since the Book of Genesis, and all the way through the Bible.”
“We cannot really conceive a community unless we have a biblical understanding of what the Trinity is”, she states.
According to her, “God did not create community, He is community.”
“It is a special aspect of the Godhead that they want to share with us, to give us an opportunity to understand what it would be like to actually live in a dynamic group, where there is not hierarchy, no one tries to fight for power. Everyone has their role, their responsibility, but its lived out with the foundation of love and respect.”
“MODELLING WHAT OUR CREATOR DESIGNED FOR US”
“When you look at the Godhead, Father, Son and the Spirit work together, they summit to one another. And each one has their task and they do not fight for that power”, the pastor says.
Duarte defines “a really amazing community” as “a group of people who are modelling what our Creator has designed for us, that is a glimpse of who He is.”
JESUS AT THE CENTRE OF THE COMMUNITY
We all live in different kinds of communities, but “what we have in common in a Christian community it has to be Jesus Christ, Jesus is the centre at every Christian community.”
That is why “once Jesus is taken out of that Christian community, you can still have a community, but its no longer Christian.”
“We see that in the book of Revelation, particularly with two of the churches: Ephesus and Sardis; they were on the verge if not already have removed Jesus from the centre of their communities. Although they were still churches, Jesus criticised them and said to the Ephesians: you lost your love, and to the Sardinians: you are dead”, Duarte explains.
“CHURCH IS NOT A PLACE”
Pastor Duarte warns that “when a Western European thinks of church, we think of a place, and you are never going to be a healthy community if you think of the church as a place, because the second the church is over, people leave church, and you are no longer responsible of what you learn there, or the people you met, because you left.”
In her church, they “always finish by saying: 'Meeting Point, the church is leaving the building.' That means that once the church leaves the building, it is still a church and must be active out side that building.”
“CHURCH IS A BODY”
Duarte believes that “to be healthy communities, we have to be healthy bodies”, and laments that “it has become very easy for Christians when they leave church, to feel like they have left community. But if it is a body, you cannot leave, that image that Paul used is very important for us to understand.”
“Healthy communities need to look at themselves better as a body, and realise how the body works together”, she points out.
“HEALTHY COMMUNITIES ALSO NEED THEIR SPACE”
Because “the body has also different parts, and each has its position, the Body of Christ also needs space, each in their location, there has to be some sort of separation as well”, she says.
“A healthy community also knows when to have its time-out, its space, but it never removes itself from the body, it just says: I need to rest”, Duarte adds.
That kind of community “is always available, always ready to serve, always ready to pick up the space when other parts are tired or unhealthy.”
“A high level of commitment is key for a healthy Christian community, but commitment levels change. So it has to define within itself what does commitment means there, what are the expectations of each member regarding commitment, that why there will not be hidden agendas”, Duarte concludes.
You can watch Connie Duarte's talk about “How do we live in community as the Body of Christ?” here.