Recently, I went in search of the followers of Jesus I don't see on Sunday mornings. I've always known they were there. There are an estimated 2.18 billion Christians in the world, sprinkled throughout all time zones and nestled in places from the North Pole to the South Pole.
While I would love to travel the world to worship with Christians in far off places, commitments to my local church and my travel budget don't permit it. So I decided to start with the Christians I do not see on Sundays in my local community. After all, I drive past their buildings, see their names in the local paper, and know that my neighbors are part of those churches.
It was for theological reasons that I desired to get a broader view of the body of Christ in my community. I had studied what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:12, "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ." One Lord and one baptism make us one body and not many bodies, Paul says, for we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
We, the church, are diverse and different, but we make one body.
Our unity is in our diversity working together for the good of the whole. Paul wasn't saying we are like a body, he was saying we are a body.
He was stating a truth about the church, which is true whether we agree with it or not. The great diversity of the church has the goal of unity behind it. Just like the many parts of my body that function together to keep it moving, living, and serving, so it is with the one Body of Christ spread throughout the world. We need each other.
So I set off into my community to explore this truth. My goal was not to create this unity, but to live as though it was already there, as though God had already done what Paul said and bound us together with a vast and inclusive invisible skin.
It turns out that invisible skin stretches further than I imagined. God's grace at work is transforming more lives in my community than I would have guessed. The body of Christ includes those of other denominations and no denomination, church plants and the oldest congregation in town, those whose worship is quiet and reflective and those who prefer the loud passion of praise bands, those whose emphasis is service to the world and those whose main goal is personal piety. I've begun to see this wondrous diversity in my community all authored by God.
True, the first thing I noticed when looking for Christians of other traditions was their different ways of doing just about everything. I found Jesus followers caring about details to which I previously gave no thought. Likewise, I found local churches that do not do those things I thought essential. Exploring the diversity of the church is a stretching experience, not all that different from exploring another culture.
This journey has taught me that faithfulness to Jesus is seen best not on the surface, but always down deep.
For Jesus didn't come to change us just slightly, but to transform us in the deep places of human life. This meant that it took a few conversations to get to know those of different Christian traditions. Quickly, I learned that I had to keep my ears open, ask good questions, and pay close attention. My goal was to see them as Jesus sees them by learning the rich stories of God's grace at work in their lives.
It was also a rewarding process. While I do not know all the ways the followers of Jesus are at work being salt in my community, my understanding is growing. When I am aware of the kingdom of God in my community, I am encouraged and motivated in my own faithfulness. I know which faith communities are responding to specific needs. Then, we can work together without duplicating each other's service.
Rejoicing at others' successes in sharing the gospel and transforming our community in Jesus' name and power is necessary. We can be thankful that all the gospel work in our community is not left to one local church.
These other followers of Jesus challenge me. They stretch my thinking, which makes me a more thoughtful Christian and helps clarify for me what the kingdom of God is really like. The diverse ways of practicing the Christian faith have encouraged me to think creatively about what faithfulness might look like in the future of our ever-changing world.
Our differences have also helped me clearly see how the Nazarene tribe fits into the broader kingdom of God. It's shown me the gifts Nazarenes bring to the table. Our accessible worship, commitment to holy living, and our thoughtful, yet simple practice of the faith are gifts we have to contribute. It's crippling to the wider church for us to keep these gifts to ourselves.
Ultimately, the followers of Jesus I don't see on Sundays continually remind me how big our God really is. When I start to see the lives of those in my community submitted to Jesus and all the ways they are responding in faithfulness, I get a glimpse of a God who is deeply at work all around me. A God who loves us each personally, yet is concerned about how we all work together.
I think that's exactly how it's meant to be: the body of Christ reflecting the love of God at work in our world. It's a beautiful thing to see.
Christa Klosterman is an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene.
Holiness Today, Mar/Apr 2013
Please note: This article was originally published in 2013. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.