Downton Lessons: Will your community miss you or your church when you’re gone?

Perhaps one of the most redemptive shows I’ve watched on TV, ever, is Downton Abbey. It seems every episode illustrates clearly or presents something which challenges/encourages me in my daily walk, or points me to Christ or my need of Him (as is more common in one of my other favorites Breaking Bad).

One of the sagas raised in Season 2 (and I’ll do my best to not spoil anything if you do choose to watch but haven’t yet), is the real possibility of being unable to keep Downton up and running. Some of the characters will clearly miss this more than massive house. And it is simply personal. They will have to downsize, which is the ultimate faux pas for such aristocrats. Though is probably just as much a stretch for suburbanites today. 

But others have greater concerns than just having to downsize: what will this mean for the community? Because Downton is so massive, it relies upon and employs numerous workers, who might not be able to find work elsewhere. The whole “servant” profession is on the way out Post WWI, as the British society progressively becomes more and more democratic. The Earl also wonders what will become of the community surrounding Downton if it were no longer to exist. He cares about his workers but also about the community, and recognizes that it will be a legitimate blow to both if Downton went away.

Ultimately Downton, at least in his mind, and perhaps a few others, exists not for itself alone but as a blessing for others. In Genesis 12:1-3, Abraham is blessed SO THAT he would be a blessing to others. Now this blessing clearly points to Jesus, who is the fulfillment of that blessing. But Jesus commands his disciples to live out this passage by bringing the gospel and its ultimate, as well as its concomitant blessings, to the entire world (Matt 28:19-20, Acts 1:8). As a church, we are blessed, not as an end in and of ourselves, but as a blessing to whatever community we find ourselves in. 

One of the most helpful diagnostic question I’ve heard when thinking about the existence of a local church is, “Will the community miss you if someday your church did not exist?” Clearly the answer for Downton is yes, because that is a major concern for the Earl. 

Would this be the same case for your church? This isn’t a question primarily for pastors, but for members. If your church were taken away, its lamp-stand snuffed out, would your community miss it? Would your community, not simply your members/attenders miss it or at least be sad to see it go? Would it miss your love in word and in deed? The answer to this question will indicate, at least in part, your community impact. And since the church isn’t a building, but the people of God, this question is more properly directed to its members than its pastors. There are simply more of them and therefore more community impact. Let me put the question like this: would people in your community miss your love to them? If you had no worshiping community, and therefore no base where you could rest, rest, worship, and be trained and sent out into the world, would people care? Can your community say, “I don’t believe what they believe, and they annoy me with their truth claims, but they do love me and my family?”

Would this be the same for you as a neighbor? God puts people into neighborhoods, the exact time and places for where they should live in those neighborhoods, apartment complexes, condos, shelters, etc..SO THAT, people could seek and hear the gospel (Acts 17:26-27). Will they find people ready to share the gospel and their lives as well? Will people be sad if you move? If the answer is, no, or “I’m not sure,” then your house is seen simply as an asset (or liability if you purchased in FL during the housing bubble), but not as a blessing to be used to bless others.

In Christ, we have the freedom to ask these questions and feel convicted of their answers. Because our performance doesn’t put a smile upon the Father’s face-Jesus did that-we can be open and honest about failures and successes. Our failures don’t remove the smile and our successes don’t maintain it. Jesus work assures us of both.

Spiritual Constipation and the Gospel

This past week I had a wonderful opportunity to sit down with someone who I had hoped would help out with an existing ministry at Redeemer. But first I wanted to hear his story, how God had worked in the past, and what the Lord was doing now. He was connected to one of our C.D. (community/discipleship) groups now, and had been involved in a previous bible study for a few years. So after I had discerned the desire to grow, and to continue to grow in his faith, I laid out an opportunity before him. He gobbled it up like Pacman. 

But how he responded brought me more joy than simply his response. I’ve been feeding and getting fed for a while now, and I’ve been ready to serve for a while. I’ve been getting fed and now its time to feed others. I can’t hold this stuff in. It’s uncomfortable to continue being fed and not feeding others.

He had been experiencing what I call “spiritual constipation.” That is, that he’d been feeding and drinking deeply on the gospel through our bible studies and CD groups and felt spiritually bloated. He was stopped up. I know that’s somewhat graphic language, but this is a reality for many. We’re not designed to experience the blessings of the gospel only to hold them in. We’ll get backed up. We’ll be uncomfortable, or at least forfeit some of the joy of following Jesus and fellowshipping with Him. In the end, if we are truly growing in grace, we’ll desire to serve and bless others.

In Genesis 12:1-3, we see that Abraham is blessed SO THAT he would be a blessing to others. God has never in the scriptures blessed anyone so that he/she could simply revel in that blessing and keep it for themselves. And we now know that it is through Jesus, that we inherit the blessing promised to Abraham (Galatians 3:29), which is ultimately “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph 1:3).” With these blessings, and “every” sounds like a pretty large number to me, YOU do have something to offer. 

If you are the lad or the lass who believes it is important to go to a bible study each day of the week, and yet you are not serving in the local church, I would like to encourage you to consider that this MAY not be God’s design for you. He designed you to be a conduit of gospel blessings, not to be a storage container for them to remain stagnant. My hope is that you would begin to feel spiritually bloated and uncomfortable, because it is not God’s design for you to be “spiritually” constipated. 

Now of course there are caveats if you simply need a break, or you’ve been burned out, or if you have to wait to join to serve, or if you can’t say no to anyone who asks you to do something. But consider that you serving the church with your gifts, and reaching out to those outside the church is not only to benefit others. It’s for you as well. 

I hope that you can find a spiritual comfort that comes with being a conduit for the gospel instead of keeping all the good stuff to yourself. Yes you’ll enter into suffering at times, but you won’t regret being used by God to bless others with the blessing secured to you by Jesus.