“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” – Ephesians 6:12 (NIV)
The team huddles in the locker room, catching the captain’s fire. The coach piles on inspiration and last-minute instructions. The players join hands in the center of the circle, shout their rallying chant, break and head for the door. They turn left as one and make for the parking lot, scatter to their cars, and head out for a week of friendly, one-on-one pickup games.
That may sound like a recipe for forfeiting a championship, but the life of the church should look something like this. There’s a tension in the functioning of the body of Christ. We as believers need one another for fellowship and encouragement, and we need to gather for worship, prayer, and the teaching and study of God’s Word. When one is hurting, we need to love like the Louisville Cardinals love Kevin Ware. Yes, we are a team, but like no other in the world. The challenge each of us faces is not to help our team defeat other earthly teams, but to struggle in God’s power “against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
That battle is fought on our knees. The contest we fight in the world is to add to our team’s roster, one name at a time. Most often, the work is done one recruiter at a time. It has to do with individual identity and group identity. When we relate one to one, each person’s uniqueness is in play, and the connections are personal. When we face the world as a group – and collectively confront another group – the overwhelming temptation is to pit the shared identity of “us” against the perceived, stereotyped and feared identity of “them.” It’s almost guaranteed to be adversarial on both sides.
There are healthy ways we as Christians can show a united face to the world: missions trips, food and clothing drives, events that embrace the community in a positive spirit. In these we can demonstrate our love toward one another – the way Jesus said we should be known (John 13:35) – and we can offer God’s love to the world. But even so, the real work is likely to be done as individuals connect in the context of believers extending friendship, help, healing and hospitality. In a personal setting marked by trust, the unavoidable questions of sin and the need for the Savior can come to the fore.
When we leave that locker room we call a sanctuary every Sunday, we should be primed for the one-one-one. We shouldn’t be heading for the arena as Team Jesus to take on Team Secular Humanist, or Team Gay Marriage, or whatever team stokes our fear and makes us want to close ranks.