Can you imagine your pastor attending a party thrown by a known criminal?  Can you imagine him sitting next to prostitutes, drug dealers and all the other categories of humanity that our society villainizes?  Can you see the headlines in the local paper? It would be a scandal.  The church would be in an uproar.  The deacons would have to call a special meeting to discern what disciplinary actions would be required.  It would rock the church!

Yet, this is exactly what Jesus did.

This Fall, I am blogging my way through the book of Luke in search of the “Spirit of Community Building.”  One of the first things Jesus did in his launch of his earthly ministry was to recruit a core team and his process for doing so is a bit unorthodox.

In my prior post, we looked at the call of Peter, the first member of Jesus’ core team.  Today, we will be looking at the call of Levi found in chapter 5 verses 27-32.

“After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up, left everything, and followed him.

 Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.””

There are some obvious parallels to the lessons we learned in the call of Peter, such as:

  1. There was no criteria for selection other than obedience; no conversion requirement, statement of faith, baptism or any other requirement.
  2. The first act for both Peter and Levi was to leverage what they had to support Jesus’ mission. Peter offered his boat.  Levi offered his home and hospitality.
  3. In both cases, Jesus uses what these men offer. In the call of Peter, he used the boat to teach the masses.  In the call of Levi, Jesus uses Levi’s connections to reach those he came to reach.

The difference between Levi and Peter is that Levi was despised by many.  Tax collectors worked for the Roman overlords and were generally despised by the jewish population.  Not only did Jesus choose someone who had no apparent qualities that showed his righteousness, instead he chose someone who was seen as blatently unrighteous.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ time, don’t sound much different than the religious leaders of our day. It was a scandalous act in their eyes. Jesus basically invited the enemy to join his movement.  When you think about Jesus’ words, you realize how brilliant this move was.  If your goal is to reach those who are far from God, you need to start with someone who already has a relationship with them.  In this case, Levi.

Levi is an asset.  He is obviously connected and must have been trusted by his peers to have drawn a large crowd.  In one meal, Jesus is able to come face to face with the people he most wanted to get close to.  Levi is what we call a “connector” in the asset-based community development world.

Jesus knew that simply hanging out at the temple and preaching would never get him this kind of audience.  He knew he needed Levi and his connecting gift.

In the more than twenty years that I have been doing community building work, I have personally witnessed the power of a connector.  I could have spent ten years building relationships and not come close to the connections that were instantly forged by one strong connection with a gifted connector.

How do you find a connector?  You look for individuals who have the trust and respect of their peers.  Connectors are generally people who do what they say they are going to do.  They are the people others go to for advice and guidance.  They tend to have a high regard for their peers and see the good in those they spend time with.  They are often very protective of their peer group and this vigilance has earned the trust of others.  If your heart is not pure and your motives are not for the betterment of the peer group, you will never earn the trust of the connector.

Last spring, we highlighted a few Neighborhood Heroes.  One of them is a connector named Anita.  This video demonstrates the connector role well. 

I see way too many people either ignore local connectors, or worse, try to use them for their own personal or organizational gain.

Connectors are the key to strengthening communities but only if your goal is to help them strengthen their community. 

This text is rich with implications for individuals who are seeking to be the church in the world.  I would love to know what other lessons you might draw from this text as it relates to the spirit of community building.