True community, true maturity

I’m reading Michael Horton’s Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World, which is not-so-subtly a response to Radical by David Platt, though Horton’s book doesn’t mention it by name. I’ve never read anything by Horton before, and I am enjoying it.

He is a good writer, one who can keep drawing you in and engaging you even while keeping his style targeted to a young modern audience (it takes skill to define the word redundant in the flow of your text without making it obvious or patronizing).

Maturity comes through community, and community comes by covenants

On the other hand, like salty peanuts, all of this clicking, cutting-and-pasting, Googling and chatting, posting and texting just creates a deeper thirst for something more meaningful. Younger generations will say that they long for community, but the habits that they’ve acquired – and which are now deeply woven into the fabric of their personality – make it difficult for them to belong to any particular group with any serious and long-term investment.

Horton’s primary emphasis throughout the book is that the key to personal growth and to cultural change (slowly, like a mustard seed) is attendance and faithfulness to the weekly means of grace: preaching of the Word and the sacraments.

The key to maturity is time and community. Discernment takes time and a lot of godly input spanning generations and ethnicities. There’s a reason why the Psalms have been sung for thousands of years, why many young people still know “Amazing Grace,” even if they barely know “Shine, Jesus, Shine” and have never (happily) even heard of “In the Garden.” A consensus of believers in churches over a few generations has a way of weeding out the less edifying songs.


God makes us part of a body, and we can’t be healthy if we constantly amputate ourselves and then attempt to reattach somewhere else. Certainly, God’s body is bigger than one particular congregation, and we can move across states or across the world and still belong to Christ’s body. However, the discipline of real community comes from belonging to one place and one people for a long time. Our society has not only lost this discipline, but rejected it.

The patient discipline of belonging to a community (preferably, the same local community) over a long period of time is difficult […] What seemed like boring routine with boring people may actually take on a different aspect. Like a vast field, we are growing together into a harvest whose glory will only appear fully at the end of the age.

There is something so valuable and irreplaceable about having the same people who witnessed my own baptism (and vowed to help me walk with Christ), also witness (and vow to help) the baptism of my own children. Such long-standing community is founded so much deeper than if it was based on us sharing the same opinions and practices about secondary matters. Instead, it is founded on the gospel and cemented with vows.

So it is time for all of us to grow up. It’s time for gifted communicators and leaders to become pastors, for restless souls to submit to the encouragement and correction in the body, for movements to give way to churches. […] Movements typically don’t like institutions. […] But the church, despite current appearances, is God’s emerging ecosystem of the new creation.

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  1. This looks fantastic! I have read some Horton when we became Reformed – Putting Amazing into Grace – and enjoyed it.

    I was thinking about what you’re talking about this weekend as I watched two toddlers wrestle whose fathers had grown up in our congregation as friends. What a blessing. It also has to do with place … something our transient society struggles with.

  2. Wow! “We can’t be healthy if we constantly amputate ourselves and then attempt to reattach somewhere else.”
    And then this amputation affects the rest of the body. This hit me both ways when we left a church we’d been a part of for 21 years. It wasn’t because we were dissatisfied and we went with the church’s blessing, but afterwards it did really feel as if we’d been violently uprooted and eight years later I still feel it.

  3. I appreciate your post on this subject, and I think it’s wonderful for anyone, like you, to be able to enjoy that generational connection to one body. But the sad reality for many, myself included, is that is not an option, not a possibility for one reason or another. And I’m really not including the scenario of just leaving a church because you don’t like it anymore or you got tired of it. I do totally agree with the premise of what the author is saying, I believe. I just don’t think you miss out on maturity in every case if that’s missing. (Not sure if that was what he was saying or not.) Thanks again for the thought-provoking post.

    1. Karin, you’re right. He was saying that rooted community is one path God has provided for maturity – to glean from those who have gone before and learn to stay even when you feel restless. But that isn’t the only path, of course. God calls others to other journeys. Sometimes leaving a church is the right thing to do, but I do think even when it is it is like an amputation and not to be done lightly. My parents changed churches for good reasons when I was 12 and it took me about 2 years to get over it. :)

      Thank you for pointing this out.

  4. Our elders are teaching through this book for our Sunday School, and it’s sparked some great discussions. I want to go back and re-read it more carefully this summer.

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