You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Would the word “community” qualify as a word that doesn’t mean what we think it means? If you’re around young whippersnappers these days, you know that even “bad” can be used to describe something good. Words are powerful, as long as we know what they mean.
Jesus wants to show His friend, His disciple John, what the church would look like just before His return. Unfortunately for those of us it describes, Jesus holds nothing back. “You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Rev. 3:17, NLT).*
In our modern vernacular, the word “bougie” or “boujee” is very apropos in this moment.
Why do I say that? If we use Jesus’ words as a springboard, could it be possible that the things we flaunt, glory in, and celebrate are not the real essence of who we are?
Bougie actually has a centuries-long history, going all the way back to revolutionary France, before it spun off into variations of the slang word we know today.
So bougie, boujee, and bourgie all stem from bourgeoisie, a French word that simply means “middle class.” Today we use it to describe those we know are in one condition, yet act better than they are in reality. Laodicea is the 2,000-year-old term that means pretty much the same thing.
What if we took a real close look at all our accoutrements and asked what things are leading us to build stronger relationships—truly mingling—truly getting all our members involved in outreach?
For me, community looks like what our little church is doing in northwest rural Georgia. Based on the stats I see, we are like most churches in North America, and by most, I mean the churches scattered around the suburbs and rural communities. Those churches have 100 or fewer members, and often don’t have paid staff to handle all the church responsibilities.
Our church started a tradition: we prize time together outside the church sanctuary. As with Jesus and His disciples, we often find our most enjoyable moments around the dinner table.
We make time for all to meet at one church member’s home for a social that’s not just for us but also for our friends and family who may not be members of our church. Recent social distancing has forced us to take a hiatus, but it has become our tradition over the past year. We go all out; it’s an event. We have lots of food, we sing songs, we read Scripture, and we just get to know each other.
When we aren’t doing this at someone’s home, we enjoy meals after church. (By the way, some people come just for those. They don’t have to listen to me preach to get admission to the best potluck in town.)
In these moments, when we eat our fill with chips and guacamole, real conversation takes place, real community.
It’s not our fancy sanctuary; it’s not our bougie marketing; it’s not our Laodicean suits and ties. We put all those away and just enjoy time with each other, mingling with each other, getting involved in each other’s lives one bite at a time.
As many of us haven’t been able to be inside the church sanctuary for the past few months, I don’t hear people say, “I can’t wait to sit in a pew again.” But I do hear, “I can’t wait to fellowship, spend time together, enjoy our meals together again.”
The church is not a machine of information dissemination; it’s a movement created to build relationships and create experiences that are so genuine that the community becomes magnetic and begins to attract more people than one bowl of guacamole can handle.
* Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Jarod Thurmon pastors the Seventh-day Adventist Church of Adairsville in Adairsville, Georgia.