April 2012 - Vol. 59

Coherence – a Gift of Christian Community
by Bob Tedesco

In this essay on Christian community, Bob Tedesco, a former president of the North American region of the Sword of the Spirit, addresses the topic of building Christian communities that last and the importance of restoring intergenerational family life and clans that are mutually supportive of sustaining a Christian way of life together.
In a yearly review of our community life, our coordinators recognized that certain elements of our community life had weakened or slipped a bit. We discussed the situation in ways that identified a weakening of our overall vision, and for certain elements of our way of life, a loss of vision.

In recent decades and certainly through the twentieth century, society has changed significantly in structure. When the world changes, people change, and the Christian church is changed as well. In the past thirty to forty years, we have seen the Lord responding to those changes and restoring something ancient.

If we look at Old Testament societies, we can see individuals, couples, families, clans (two or more generations - clans not used here in the negative sense), tribes, and a people. Within the “people” we can see other groupings: priestly, governing, military, workers, etc. Modern societal structure (especially Western societies) seems to look more like: individuals, couples, families, weak extended families, and nations. Life is lived and decisions are made in a way that repeatedly destroys connectedness until we are isolated units. In our Sword of the Spirit communities we see individuals, couples, families, clans, the local community, a region and an international community of communities (a people).

Two founding directions
In the summer of 1973, our local community was given two founding words: “Gather my people together;” and “Build to last” (prophetic direction for the People of God in Pittsburgh). We have responded to the first word (gather) with numerous expressions of evangelistic outreach: Life in the Spirit courses, retreats, conferences, concerts, prayer meetings, men’s breakfasts, etc. We have also repeatedly emphasized evangelism on a personal level. “Gathering” has always been a significant part of our life together.

We have also taken “building” seriously from the beginning, and our national and international ties have had a lot to do with our understanding of how things go together in a way that will last: locally, trans-locally and internationally.

Gathering and building are expressed very well in Matthew 28:18-20, the Great Commission. We noticed that it says, “Go and make disciples...teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

So, for us it meant, first of all, discipleship; a discipleship where we are formed in Christian character. Second, it meant being put together (built) in a way that can endure in a culture that is hostile to Christianity and even more hostile to Christian culture.

Our coordinators take a concern for: 1) our ongoing relationship with Jesus; 2) our underlying attitudes, postures and influences; and 3) our long-term evangelism and growth. In Acts 2:41, we see the Bible takes a concern for growth when it says “that day 3,000 were added to their number.”

Community growth for us comes from adult evangelism and transgenerational evangelism (the term we use to describe our children growing into adult members of the community).

A community of disciples on mission
We are a community of individuals, couples, clans and movements on mission. We have a lot of teaching material on discipleship, on community, on marriage and family life. We have very little teaching on movements and no teaching on life in a clan. We have recently developed a series on senior life, which can improve the role of seniors in community and extended families. But, we have very little written about extended family life in a Christian community.

By “family” here, we mean the nuclear model with one generation of adults. “Clan” is used for extended family with two or three generations of adults living community life. By “movements” we mean groupings of adults with a common activity and outreach that support the overall mission of the community. Individuals and families are limited by life spans, but they lay a foundation for clans, movements, communities and the Sword of the Spirit that transcends lifetimes. Pastoral leaders and youth workers working with second and third generations have a special responsibility to be aware of and support those second and third generation members. They are key links in a network of relationships that span multiple generations.

On mission
 It is not my intention here to talk at length about our mission but it should be said that our mission is:

  • To evangelize, and to lead people into real decisions to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior, and to be baptized in the Holy Spirit
  • To lead the individuals who have made those decisions into discipleship relationships of formation in Christian character and Christian community
  • To rediscover and establish the Christian culture in scriptural wisdom
  • To establish movements and outreaches that serve the Lord’s purposes.
A bigger vision
Our vision is often much too small. The Lord’s plan for individuals, couples and families far surpasses our limited view and ideas. The American nuclear family model is not the Lord’s plan. The “nuclearization” of the family is creating walled-off social units that cannot be easily accessed by other extended family members and friends. What used to be a very permeable border is becoming increasingly opaque to outside light and influence. Some of that “thickening of the membrane” is due to fear, and part of it is due to the real need to survive in a toxic culture.

We also quickly absorb other modern attitudes and approaches. “I’m eighteen and I can do what I want!” Can you pay your own bills? I knew a man who used to say, “I can’t wait until my kids graduate from high school so I can send them off to college!” I had serious news for him that some of the most difficult and needy years for some children are the years between eighteen and twenty-five!

Sometimes we say, “I want the best of everything for my children.” Won’t they end up being spoiled “brats” if they too easily get the best of everything? Christian parents might say, “If he would only answer an altar call...” but, would he not also need discipleship, supportive relationships, and Christian character formation? “They need to maximize their gifts and potential” is also a common posture.

The Lord is saying, “Come and go with me. It will cost you, but it will be better!” The Lord has a big strategy for families, clans, and movements; but modern influences and limitations are blocking the next levels from developing. These influences and limitations are worst at the personal and family levels.

A big strategy for clans and movements
First, we need to say again that the Lord’s plan for family is bigger than the nuclear model. Keeping that in mind, we can begin to explore what he has in mind for clans and multi-generational family life. In some of our communities we have begun to see the unfolding of these expressions as multi-generational families emerge in communities that are 30-40 years in existence. Knowing that multi-generational families are a part of his plan can sharpen the focus of my service, and my decisions can be made in light of his strategy. That is, we can live life intentionally and coherently to support the new life that is emerging. This is not rocket science. It is the Lord restoring and rebuilding what has been damaged or destroyed by ungodly modern living. Living for self is self-destructive at every level of life and every level of basic human groupings.

On a worldwide basis, we see a steady stream of church movements that have served to bring individuals to encounter the living Christ so that lives, families, and vocations can be restored to him. All of this spiritual activity and energy is ultimately intended for the rebuilding of his family.

Again, knowing more of his plan sharpens the focus of my service: I know how to pastor or to steward that which I have been placed over. I even know more about how to write my will!

However, a greater body of teaching is still needed since the Lord is restoring expressions of the Body that we had not anticipated. For example, men and women living “single for the Lord” in an ecumenical setting and yet attached or related to a wider body of families and singles. Additionally, the fostering and protecting of clans is an area in need of teaching and development. Clusters or intentional neighborhood living has been explored with some success, but it has not yet seen the development and understanding of its dynamic to get the most out of it. But, think about that: intentional Christian neighborhoods! These would be neighborhoods where our young people could at least have some chance of developing life-long Christian relationships.

The Lord is restoring something in covenant Christian community: a stable network of brothers and sisters with whom we can grow old, while serving him over the span of generations; a place where our children can grow up with friends, marry and raise their children in the company of lifelong friendships. 

Coherence – a gift of community
So, the various aspects of our life together – relationships, covenant, discipleship, mission, worship – are all meant to go together, to add up to something, to build something for God that lasts. His plan is coherent – it makes sense. It is understandable (though not fully revealed). It is seamless. It is discernable and intelligent. It is comprehensive, and it is long-term. We think in terms of one or two generations. He sees many. This plan involves individuals, families, clans, movements, and tribes or communities. Our lives and the lives of these groupings are meant to add up to something, to be built into something. In building terms we are not just raw materials, we are stones built into a dwelling place. In farming terms we are not just seeds of wheat scattered in a random field, but the field is prepared, turned over with the rows such that the plants support each other when the wind blows, and at the harvest, the fruit is easily gathered. We are not a single stalk of wheat in a windstorm, but a field of wheat in mutual support.

Life was more naturally coherent in earlier times. Farms served villages, and the marketplace provided a continual intersection for people who would know each other for lifetimes. Congregations and denominations never had to take a concern for the disintegration of what seemed to be the natural structure of humanity. Today’s lifestyle seems more like a patchwork of temporary relationships: in many cases functional relationships (e.g. career) which vaporize with the next downsizing, or graduation, or the next “opportunity.” The Lord is restoring something in covenant Christian community: a stable network of brothers and sisters with whom we can grow old, while serving him over the span of generations; a place where our children can grow up with friends, marry and raise their children in the company of lifelong friendships. We need to see the vision, embrace it and teach it to our children.

Coherent or “buffet”
We are modern, informed consumers. We shop for the best: the best values, investments, groups, and activities. Often, however, we do that without a coherent strategy, or without a long-term sense of how our choices fit together. If we took a patchwork approach to planning for retirement, we would find ourselves relying on Social Security. Yet, we can invest a lot of time and money in Christianity without taking concern for how it might all fit together in the Lord’s plan. Parents taking a real concern for their children often “shop” for the best schools, the best youth groups, etc. This “patchwork” Christianity does not build the Body of Christ, but repeatedly weakens it. In worst cases, the children are even leading the family in several directions that end up having a disconnecting, incoherent effect on the family. Mission trips, youth groups, retreats, gatherings, campus groups, small groups and relationships should all connect, they should build into something.

I would advise young families to plan to be a clan: to take a coherent approach to life and choices, and to raise the children so that they understand and can embrace the call. Additionally, we need to orient the family and clan beyond itself so that it embraces and is built into the wider community and even to the community of communities (the Sword of the Spirit).

More developed families will find it harder, since the children will not have seen this from an early age, but we can still aid the process by making good decisions. For example, if we decide to send them to the “best” college hundreds of miles away, we make a decision that “disconnects” them from family and friends and usually results in them settling in some other area of the planet.

Mature families and singles can also live so as to support this work of God in service and in pastoral work. [Two passages from the Book of Revelation depict God's people gathered together into a holy city – the new Jerusalem.]

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away; and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband, and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” And he who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” 
 – Revelation 21:1-5
In the Spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed; on the three east gates, on the three north gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them the twelve names of the twelve apostles… 
 – Revelation 21:10-14
The Lord is building something; it has a design; it has foundations, walls and gates, and a detailed plan.
“Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers. And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. 
 – Acts 2:40b-47
They lived differently: not just a little differently but radically different lives. They spent a lot of time together and shared things. Their life together was a part of the Lord’s plan to save them from a “crooked generation” (vs. 40).

For all of us, our lives are called to have purpose, to make sense, to add up to something; we need to stay together and make decisions and investments of time and money that support our call.

[This article is excerpted from Essays on Christian Community, (c) copyright 2010 Bob Tedesco. Used with permission. The book can be purchased at Tabor House.]
Essays on Christian Community:
Do covenant communities have something to contribute to our models of church?

written by Bob Tedesco, 
published by Tabor House, Lansing, Michigan, 2010, 157 pages.

Bob Tedesco is past President of the North American Region of the Sword of the Spirit, a founder of the People of God community in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, and has been one of its key leaders for the past 38 years.

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