Now will not God by all means bring about justice for his chosen ones, who are crying to him day and night, and have patience with them? I say to you that he will swiftly bring about their justice. But the Son of man, having come, will he then find faith on earth?
(Luke 18:7-8, Greek New Testament)
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Christians and their congregations are caught in a vortex of social and cultural changes that seeks to make faith irrelevant. Christendom has lost its influence within North American culture and, indeed, may be something of the past. American culture is becoming secular in an increasingly pluralistic society that enters into congregations through the lives of its members.
Because of this, true Christian communities may find it necessary to place faith at the heart of their mutual relationships. Members of faith communities relate closely through expressions of shared trust, mutual reliance, and interpersonal commitments. Shared beliefs and practices may strengthen levels of trust. But increasingly, people in Christian communities encounter such a variance of beliefs formed from personal opinions, rather than transcendent authority, that they tend to be more divided rather than united by shared beliefs.
In the absence of faith as the basis for relationships, congregations exist on the basis of power and, where power must be negotiated, of mutual agreement or contract. Congregations such as these can be expected to function more like social institutions rather than communities of faith. Congregational leaders, both clergy and laity, will find it helpful to distinguish between a true faith community and a power-based or contract-based congregation.
A true community of faith will be the congregation that learns to structure relationships on the basis of trust, reliance, loyalty, and commitment, first to the Lord of the Church and secondly to one another. Such structuring will require faithful, well differentiated leadership that first takes responsibility for their own faith and, by remaining open to the faith expressed by others, encourages the formation of an environment that is conducive to faith development. In this way, they will be enabling other members to grow into the more mature levels of faith that will sustain them as the community engages the challenges of the modern, secular world. Thus, faith will become the catalyst for their future together.