Others-Centered kind of Peculiar

From James Bryan Smith’s The Good and Beautiful Community:

Communities become others-centered when they are steeped in the narrative of the kingdom of God. They know their community is an outpost of the kingdom of God, a place where grace is spoken and lived for as long as is needed. The value of the church is not in its longevity but in its love. The success of a church is not in its size but in its service to the people and community. We are a people founded by a person who never established a church or built a building or led a finance campaign to build impressive buildings. Our leader just came and served and then died for the good of others. I suppose that would be a pretty good mission statement for a church, but one I am not likely to see: “We exist to serve others and then die, just like our founder.”


This kind of sacrificial living (and dying) is so biblically sound and yet so absent from my experience of American church life. Leadership enables one to pull a community in that direction but at the end of the day, when push comes to shove, too often what some individual wants or some group of individuals wants wins the day. Some even find it difficult to celebrate when the unchurched are drawn into kingdom life. Just more mouths to feed and a greater strain on the supply with which we satisfy ourselves.

“You mean pastor you want me to give up Bach to reach my daughter’s generation?” Yes. “Sorry. I haven’t “died” to self that much. I am not that other centered.”

At least here in this example there is an awareness of the shallowness and selfishness. In other cases, folks are so rooted it the false narrative of consumerism (and at the church’s leading) it never occurs to them that William Temple had it right when he said something like, the church is the only society that exists primarily for the welfare of folks who have never darkened its doors.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been blessed to labor with many “others-centered” people over the years, just not whole communities. What Smith longs for is possible. But only by the Grace of God! And it is hard to imagine what he longs for emerging from something old and established. I am biased of course but that kind of church has to be planted!

Leave a Reply