One of the fundamental problems, both theological and social, is understanding what the church is. In theology, the comprehension of this problem is called ecclesiology. It is aimed primarily at the mystical, mysterious side of the church’s life and, therefore, is not familiar to the outside view of secular society. In the public view, the church is thought of exclusively as a powerful institution, primarily ideological, and as a political one. It is complicated for the church today to give a different knowledge about itself to society, which is not interested in its mystical life. On the other hand, it still wants to see the church, first of all, a bearer of mercy, love, forgiveness, evidence of truth, and a champion of social justice. In this sense, the church itself is faced with the task of understanding why the institutional characteristics of the church have become decisive for society in defining it.
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The Evangelical Church is currently experiencing an identity crisis because the rapid dynamics of the development of secular culture require appropriate adaptation. Simultaneously, the church must remain true to its mandate and moral authority. The critical role of congregations within the church is the explicit mission of being a healing community in a shattered world (Kellemen, 2015). Currently, Bible communities face several problems, among which the syndrome of pastor isolation, futility, and insecurity can be distinguished (Dickie, 2020). These problems affect both pastors and, indirectly, the entire community and congregation, making the healing function for the community not evident and difficult to understand. This paper examines the concept of the congregation as a healing society, topical issues related to current problems, as well as the fundamental foundations of the concept itself.
Speaking of a congregation, there is a particular image of a well-coordinated group of people who know each other well, communicate well with each other, understand each other well, and seem to be somewhat separated from all other people. It is worth noting that the very understanding of worship is the congregation’s foundation. If people going to church think that by doing so, they serve God, then they are partly mistaken. In reality, God serves people, and this is where the infinite treasure of the church lies (Crabb, 2005). This service begins at the Last Supper when Christ washes His disciples’ feet. Subsequently, when Christ washes the feet of His disciples, this image of worship occurs constantly in all the services of the church, in all the Sacraments (Murren, 2010). In this regard, the congregation’s fundamental understanding of worship is how people associate themselves with this concept.
In a general sense, the task of a church congregation can be defined as the salvation of man in Christ. The center of the life of the church community is the Eucharist, and the area of activity is worship. It is the implementation of spiritual life at the parish level and their expression in external service, that is, evangelism in word and deed. The out-of-service active life of the community naturally follows from the Eucharistic life and should be primarily directed towards the parish itself. It can only be extended outwardly in missionary and social service (Crabb, 2007). The basic principles of the relationship between the rector and the church community can be defined as family, brotherhood, and fatherhood, which express love and trust between all parish members, both priests and parishioners. Spiritually, the ideal situation is when the pastor and other priests in the ward are the spiritual fathers of the parishioners. On the other hand, parishioners and priests must observe a certain subordination in relations between themselves since it is not uncommon to find cases of distortion of the principle of paternity. For example, the model of “friend or foe” relations or the elite identity of a particular community can be provided. It is necessary to understand that the priest himself sometimes brings up and provokes such relationships.
The arrival of a young man in a community that does not have established traditions of extra-church life puts him in a position of loneliness. In such parishes, there is often no desire to carry out any extra-liturgical activity. It is partly due to the composition of such parishes and the inertia of the priesthood. On the other hand, churches with extra-church activities and active Christian ministry present a qualitatively different picture. It is to such communities that young people most often come, and their advantage lies in the fact that young people are allowed to realize themselves in serving their neighbors actively. This problem can be identified as one of the congregation’s main current challenges as a healing community.
One of the main problems of a young man in a parish is to find the application of his abilities in the life of the church community. The main factor contributing to the rallying of the parish and the emergence of out-of-service communication is the presence of a common direction of activity in which all parishioners are engaged. In turn, such communication helps to attract new people to the temple. Therefore, a young person’s problems are associated with a lack of community life as such. Another critical factor for a young person in a church community is the priest’s availability for conversation and personal communication (Wilson, 2003). It is important to note that the involvement of a young person in the community’s activities should take place in the spirit of Christian love, gradually and without violence against his will. The rector is called to build the community’s life around the liturgical service in such a way that the parish life outside of the service would be a consequence of it. In this activity, the rector acts as a pastor, educator, father, and head of the church community.
Parish inner-community life is called upon to shift the emphasis from the need to fulfill external rituals to a person’s inner life and make life itself a divine service and communion with God. The church community is called to give a young person the same as the church as a whole – the fullness of being. The main thing in Christianity is communion with Christ and life with Him and in Him. It is by no means ensured by an external form of piety and a semblance of spiritual life, but only by the realization of the Gospel in one’s life (Martin, 2018). The Eucharist and the non-liturgical life of the community that flows from it, as from a source, is this fullness of domestic, office, leisure, and other aspects of human life and activities. In this sense, performing works of mercy is also not the absolute goal of the Christian life. Thus, the whole church, liturgical, missionary, and spiritual life is only a way of communion with Christ.
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Pastors have a great responsibility, although, at the same time, they are the same people as the members of the congregation. They are subject to emotions, and life difficulties, and at the same time, they often bear the burden of emotions and life difficulties of other people. In the community’s eyes, the pastor often becomes a hostage to the pedestal syndrome. In other words, members of the congregation can idealize the pastor’s image, excluding humanity, which is a rather severe delusion. This problem has been termed isolation, making it difficult for pastors to make friends (Sauskojus, 2019). However, their need for simple human communication is just as critical as their primary activity in community healing.
Church leaders often face problems of secularism and pluralism. These issues are becoming relevant in modern society, where the attitude towards the church is highly dynamic and rapidly developing over time. As the world develops, new events in it pose many new questions to society, for answers to which people come to church. The difficulty of resolving such issues lies with the higher ranks. As a result, any delay and uncertainty on their part undermine the critical attitude towards the church, identifying it with no more than one of the institutions of society. As a result, a sense of futility and anxiety spills over into anxiety that affects both pastors and congregation members. At the same time, the function of healing the community appears with a minus sign, bringing even more chaos to the community.
The church’s goal is to help the community heal from unbelief and disappointment, doom and hopelessness, to breathe life and a victorious spirit of faith. The church exists on earth to heal society, but first, to diagnose: a society without Jesus is a camp of hopelessly doomed death row, where sin multiplies; a place of suffering and unspeakable pain (Kellemen, 2015). In fact, two essential processes are taking place in parallel: the church’s awakening and the reformation of society. Both processes influence each other in every possible way and are closely interconnected – one is impossible without the other. Members of the congregation come to the church for revival, which subsequently guides the process of the reformation of society with their own hands. The congregation consists of many families in which the next generation is growing up, to whom it is essential to convey the whole essence of this teaching.
Spiritual dangers and problems arise most acutely for a young man in the period of a neophyte. It is due to the wrong direction of spiritual efforts, idealization of the external life of the church, and excessive ideologization of any phenomena. What is more, a tendency to look for indisputable spiritual authorities, including priests, in order to shift responsibility for their lives onto them also plays an essential role in danger identification. It is indicated by many different reasons, some of which are listed below.
First, an inexperienced person is inclined to perceive the particular practical recommendations to individual people found in patristic literature as general church laws of spiritual life. As a result, the monastic way of life is transferred to the daily life of a Christian. Such a perception of private methods of solution as universal for any other person’s life seems to be dangerous. The devotees of piety approached each specific person individually, so their experience should not be perceived without taking into account the cultural and historical context (Widianto et al., 2019). Secondly, under certain conditions, a person who takes part in the church is inclined to idealize priests, believing that the gifts of grace of the priesthood provide the pastor with personal holiness. As a result of this approach, some Christians mistakenly perceive the priest as the highest authority, trying to build their entire lives following his opinions and wishes.
A separate danger for the church community is putting extra-liturgical activity in the first place, the desire to turn the temple into a club of interests. Often one has to meet with the elementary irresponsibility of a community member who has assumed specific responsibilities and has not fulfilled them. This problem can have spiritual and psychological reasons and, unfortunately, is common in parish life. Parishes’ traditions and way of life, which have developed as a result of specific historical factors over several decades, are beginning to be perceived almost as patristic (Hellerman, 2009). As a result, some of the parish rectors are afraid to change anything in their parish, including building community life.
Today, it is becoming evident that it is crucial to reorient the attention of the church community. It should be redirected from the revival of external church forms and care for material well-being to the creation of community life and creative church work. The processes taking place now in the church and society give the right to look into the future with optimism. Despite all the difficulties, people hopefully turn their gaze toward the church, and the number of parishes is increasing, including at the expense of young people. Having passed through neophyte as through a natural growth pain, people acquire the true meaning and joy of life in love for Christ and union with Him, missionary and catechist activities are revived, and the level of church self-awareness grows.
In many ways, humanity is looking for what it has always sought – health, stability, and an unshakable sense of well-being. Christ Jesus responded to this deep yearning for a better life by preaching the kingdom of God and healing the sick, the unfortunate, and the lost. He instructed his followers to be Christian healers and promised that they would do even greater things if they were faithful to his teachings. What makes it possible to heal in the same way that Jesus did – quickly, effectively, and finally? It all begins with a deep faith in the mercy and love of God, and to this is added a spiritual understanding of the fundamental divine laws that continuously support everyone together and individually. Instead of the pastor, the congregation has the primary goal of such spiritual development, which leads to the gradual healing of the entire community.
The healing community is, in fact, an ideal image that is difficult enough to achieve in the current reality. Pastors are responsible for the lion’s share of the need to maintain and build an environment conducive to healing. Worship and spiritual teaching are at the core of pastors’ work, but they are also subject to worldly hardships, which distort the person’s image in the congregation’s eyes. Faced with the problems of pluralism, secularism, and the introduction of the young man into the community’s life, the pastor’s responsibility is proportionally growing with the rapid development of the world. If the pastor and the highest ranks in the church can answer many new questions of society and find a delicate balance between age-old traditions and the need for adaptation, the church as a healing community will be able to serve as grace. Thus, as a phenomenon, the congregation will be able to guide its members from destruction to integrity. Only in this case will the church become something more for society and will be able to move the world for the better.
Crabb, L. (2005). Connecting: Healing ourselves and our relationships. Thomas Nelson.
Crabb, L. (2007). Becoming a true spiritual community: A profound vision of what the church can be. Thomas Nelson Inc.
Dickie, J. (2020). Building community in the church between insiders and outsiders. Acta Theologica, 40(1), 50-68. Web.
Hellerman, J. H. (2009). When the church was a family: Recapturing Jesus’ vision for authentic Christian community. B&H Publishing Group.
Kellemen, B. (2015). Biblical counseling and the Church: God’s care through God’s people. Zondervan.
Martin, D. (2018). Ruin and restoration: On violence, liturgy and reconciliation. Routledge.
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Murren, D. (2010). Churches that heal: Becoming a Church that mends broken hearts and restores shattered lives. Simon and Schuster.
Sauskojus, J. G. (2019). Incorporating a pedagogy of worship in the community group ministry of Grace Bible Church. Liberty University.
Widianto, K., Permana, S., & Juanda, J. (2019). The Effect of Church Community Development and Pastoral Services on The Growth of The Congregation of The Bethel Indonesia Church, Family Blessing Surabaya. Journal KERUGMA, 2(2), 1-21. Web.
Wilson, R. (2003). Counseling and community: Using Church relationships to reinforce counseling. Regent College Publishing.