Jon MacDonald is a pastor in Sheboygan Evangelical Free. This is an EFCA church in the Forest Lakes District. At his own blog Jon wrote about how he is not about community and wrote a legalistic case for following Jesus. In his post he stated that he does not reconsider his theology. So I thought I’d do a post about this, especially since this was published on his blog years ago and see if Jon MacDonald has grown.
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. “
Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. 2 Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us[a] and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.
Ephesians 5:1-2 NIV
French Quarter New Orleans
We live in an age where life moves fast. Life from my perspective has gotten much faster as a result of technology, social media, changing business practices and more. We also live in a time where people are increasingly lonely. I run into this in the Washington, D.C. area and also hear about this from people I interact with from New York City, Chicago and other major urban areas. This blog, which writes about the Evangelical Free Church of America came across a blog post from one of the pastors at Sheboygan Evangelical Free, Jon MacDonald. Sheboygan is on the eastern side of Wisconsin on Lake Michigan. Gary Hylander is the senior pastor at Shobygan Evangelical Free. On his biography on the church website it states that one of his hobbies is following current events as it relates to Israel and the Middle East. Is Gary like some of the people from my former church outside Milwaukee? Longing for war or conflict in the Middle East because of an obsession with end times theology? You can read about what it was like to be in a church where Christians were excited for war in Iraq in 2003 because they hoped it would usher in the end times. You can read more in, “Iraqi Freedom and Wooded Hills Bible. When You Blindly Lust For War in the Middle East Hoping to Usher In the End Times.”
Jon MacDonald came to Sheboygan Evangelical Free in 1997. Jon attended Pensacola Christian College and earned a degree in 1992. He went on and picked up a Master’s degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 2006. His first church assignment was at Fellowship Baptist Church in Columbus, Ohio. Upon arrival at Sheboygan Evangelical Free he was the Pastor of Student Ministries until 2011. Then he became the Pastor of Family Life/Discipleship.
This post is seven years old and when you consider some of the fundamentalist claims in this blog post this writer would be fascinated to know if Jon MacDonald softened with the passage of time? Or did he double down and recommit even more so? Jon MacDonald wrote a post about how church is not a place for community. While this blog can understand at what he was trying to communicate it also must acknowledge that is was a flawed message. I am going to comment below in red and then I am going to do some more analysis on Jon’s post.
Jesus did not prescribe for his people task of trying to create community. Yet that buzz word is everywhere.
It’s understandable, of course. As culture has chosen to raise our kids to be “independent,” and technology isolates each of us into a world of small screens and texting as we silently walk past each other–it only stands to reason that we need to create a fake sense of belonging to a group to overcome the real consequences of decisions.
But what is community? Is it just a place where everybody knows your name? That was the the 1980’s answer given by Coach and Sam Malone (on TV’s “Cheers”). Is it the result of people thrown into relationship because of currently shared trials (college, raising kids, standing against taxes or running a marathon)? This momentary struggle? Is it a choice we make when we buy local and live simply?
I hope not. When I look back at the end of my life I think it would be extremely dissatisfying to reflect, “At least I ran a lot of miles with my Saturday morning group,” or “We stood up together and saw democracy at work–and we lowered taxes by 1% for three years.” Those are fine accomplishments. But it’s not enough. And sharing the same temporary goals is not community, even if we accomplish the goal.
The church is not in the business of trying to create community.
This point is a really toxic point and its important to point out that much of evangelicalism is already flawed and has deep issues. But the fact that a pastor comes out in such a hostile way to community. Well so much for all the sermons and talks I heard about the importance of community groups.
It is instead in the business of making disciples who have Christ in common. We do that by faithful and powerful preaching and teaching and obeying of the Word of God together. When we have Christ in common we put Him first together. When we have Christ in common we struggle and work at the whole community obeying Him. When we have Christ in common we pray to him together–young and old. When we have Christ in common we give generously and sacrifice our own “rights” in order to prefer others. When we have Christ in common we love with a love that the world does not know. And we teach, and submit and confront and cover sin and love with Christ’s love (and yes, we raise our kids together and go to Brewers games, and run marathons and eat local tomatoes).
Its this blog’s suggestion that Jon MacDonald has faith backward. When you hammer people with God and have no love really your church offers no meaningful contribution to the “community.” (I put this in the context of a city like Sheboygan) And you don’t make any contribution to the Christian faith either. Because of how Christ is used as a hammer that tells me that this is quite a legalistic place and one that I would likely avoid.
When we do this “mission” together for a long time, we don’t need to call it “missional,” we call it a “healthy, obedient church,” and it is adorned with sacrifice and good works because we are called to Jesus (and we love him!)–not because we have convinced people to join “the community’s” definition of belonging.
Here is something that Jon MacDonald needs to understand. Churches that boast of or talk about their health are not healthy places at all. In contrast they tend to be toxic. Avoid like cancer the church that talks about how healthy it is. Those are the churches that cover up child sexual abuse. They are the churches with problems with church discipline and nepotism as well as cronyism. These are the places that are to be avoided. Love happens out of free will and not force. Hopefully Jon MacDonald understands this, and if not I would be happy to give him a presentation on this topic.
Yes, outsiders observe the church and see changed lives, sacrifice, love and mercy–many good works which Christ has prepared for us to do. And hopefully they are challenged and even convicted regarding the reality of Jesus because of the authentic nature of the love and good works of his followers. But the followers must draw people to the one they are following–not simply to the group who says they follow him.
The constant obsession with changed lives is in itself quite toxic. Those who boast of how they are changed are usually the ones who are closet alcoholics or having affairs or who are looking at pornography at work or elsewhere. The obsession with changed lives is in itself quite worrisome and a heavy burden. People then fall into a trap of feeling like they have to maintain that burden. And like I pointed out above it opens the door to problems. But all this should come out of a healthy understanding of love.
And when we do this striving and giving together for a long time we will see that we don’t have to “define community,” or create it. Community will happen naturally as we share Christ in common. As we work out disagreements. As we mutually submit to one another. As we give, motivated by the love of Christ. As we preach the Gospel and share the only mission Christ gave his church–to make disciples.
This paragraph scares me deeply. Here is why….look at how Jon MacDonald describe the “community” that comes from what he is describing? Jon MacDonald is describing an environment that is a great culture for perfect people. It also is a culture that attracts people who can live quite a facade and wear a dark mask while they hide much. But also who is left out? Well the doubters, the broken, the hurting, the atheist who is unsure and trying something out, and more. Could you break this down further and look at things through a Calvinist vs. Arminian.
Community comes as we give up everything to follow Christ together.
So I am off the “trying to create community” merry-go-round. I am not going to re-consider my theology every few years in light of some cultural trend. I am not going to re-define my terms now and then so I can be relevant. Instead, I am aiming to give up everything over a long period of time in order to embrace the reality of Jesus Christ. I know that it will be easy sometimes, but incredibly difficult at other times. Sometimes I will have warm and fuzzy feelings towards others in this community, and other times they will hurt me deeply, and I will hurt them. Those moments won’t make me feel disillusioned (not for long), because my identity, my aim and my comfort comes from Christ himself.
This paragraph raises a number of problems. But let me point out one that bothers me. Jon MacDonald states clearly that he is not going to change or re-consider his theology. If that is the case then how does he grow? Or does he grow? Or is he theologically stuck? How do you mature if you do not re-visit and ask questions and reconsider issues in light of more evidence. What is even more scary is that this guy is a pastor. And he’s writing about how he is not going to re-consider his theology. Well this is someone I don’t know if I would want to meet or discuss theology with. If I was a seeker why would I want to talk with someone who has all the answers figured out. And if you are a doubter well then good luck!
And when we look back, we will see together that community was not about feeling like we have something in common temporarily; it was about the reality of having someone in common forever.
A Sad Commentary on the Problems of Community in Evangelical Christianity
If I hear about another community group and how one should be in a community group I am going to scream. That was hammered constantly and to be in a community group that frequently broke down and had issues was beyond frustrating. Yet here is another problem. We are living in a world where people are becoming more lonely and more disconnected. Social media is not bringing us together but its isolating us. As cities grow and rural areas become more rural the problems on both sides of the spectrum are getting worse. Now stop and consider this aspect, a post about how a pastor doesn’t care for “community” comes from someone who lives in a small town on Lake Michigan that is 48,000. If that is being said in such an environment what does that mean for bigger communities in Wisconsin such as Green Bay, Madison, Appleton, Milwaukee or even where I am writing this from Washington, D.C.?
I do want to point out that I understand what Jon MacDonald is trying to say. The core message of this post is that the Christian faith is about creating followers of Jesus. Yet I would suggest that Jon has also lost the message of Christianity in the process. Jesus came to hang out with anyone. Would Jesus be kicked out of Sheboygan Evangelical Free if he were asking too many questions? This blog thinks that could be a possibility. But the lack of love prevents not only community from forming but it also shows that people don’t have love for Jesus. And on that note I will end this post. These are some thoughts that I had which I wanted to make.