As a small group leader myself, I know your struggle with getting groups to go beyond meetings and living in true Christian community. For eight and a half years I’ve been traveling to churches of all sizes talking with church planters, small group leaders, small group coaches, and small group pastors I’ve found myself scratching my head more times than not. I’ve found myself pondering the reason groups exist. All over the country groups and churches are struggling to see the kind of intimacy and connection that we all long for, what I want to call spiritual intimacy. This is an intimacy that goes beyond meeting needs, beyond deep friendships, beyond contemplative moments in group time. Spiritual intimacy catapults beyond all of these things and lands in the realm of the supernatural, in the realm of not the mystical, but the mystifying miraculous things believers experience when a bond that could never be obtained independent of the Jesus that brought them together exist. It is beyond comprehension which means it is beyond definition but it is something we have all experienced. It is a feeling facilitated by God Himself that transforms individuals, churches, and cultures.
This kind of intimacy recognizes the Holy Spirit as the primary member of the group, allowing Him to flow through each attendee during the group meeting empowering the group to literally set aside the curriculum when the Creator creates “moments.” This kind of intimacy recognizes Bible study, not as scientific investigation processed in intellectualism but as a faith journey bathed in the reality that faith is reality and only when a faith reality is the foundation of Bible study will we begin to live our lives by faith.
True Christian community is known when your tear stain is on my shirt and mine on yours, it’s your chuckle ringing in my ears and the thought of your laughter in mine, it’s lunch, on you, it’s your time when my life is too much for me to handle alone, it’s your confession and my pledge of confidentiality and visa versa.
In essence, it’s the freedom to be me, to say all the things I need to say, to ask you to carry me when I can’t carry myself and my carrying you when your load is too heavy, while enjoying a lifetime of intimate friendship, evangelizing together and saying goodbye for the last time knowing it’s been the run of a lifetime.
I would say that my journey over these last eight years have proven one thing to me. If we’re not careful we’re building programs, not people, and small groups in their purest form are about every individual experiencing Christ and one another through true Christian community.
The Serendipity by LifeWay definition of a small group reads … “A group of unwilling to settle for anything less than redemptive community.” I have found that there are five practices that are key to having the level of Christian community mentioned above.
Practice 1 … Diversity and Uniformity
- In the churches and groups I’m speaking of I’ve seen Saddleback Sam seated next to Poverty Polly. Athletic Art is partying with Nerdy Nick and Intellectual Irv is honored to spend time with Blue Collar Bob. These groups are diverse because they elevate spiritual gifts, the resources each individual is able to make available to other group members, and God-given personality types, above social status and financial stability.
- And these groups are uniform in that they are all after the same goal, creating Christian community that is unifying and transforming. They are brought together through a common purpose.
Practice 2 … Affirm Each Other
- In these groups affirmation flowed as easily as surface conversation. It seemed when someone was suffering everyone was affirming, when someone had dug into the pit of low self-esteem the entire group jumped on the affirmation bandwagon, when there a new ability was noted the group celebrated with the individual, and when any group member accomplished even some minor goal, the group couldn’t keep from responding with words of affirmation.
Practice 3 … Sharing Common Possessions
- The following words are found in the book of Acts … Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:45-47
- Groups that reach the deepest level of Christian community do not see their possessions as their own. Each individual in the group understands that what they have God has given them, and that those things need to be available to anyone in the Body of Christ who is in need, especially those people in their small group. When a small group leader has created an environment where people can share what they need and the group then responds by, if necessary, selling their own possessions to meet that need, the group’s bond will be amazingly tight..
Practice 4 … Confess Sin to One Another
- James wrote … confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. James 5:16
- Confessing sin to one another is the ultimate act of vulnerability. But when a small group can, in a healthy fashion reveal their moral struggles, and the rest of the group pray for and hold one another accountable, a deep connection exists. This won’t happen early on in group life but should be a goal group leaders shoot for. A quick caution … Don’t rush this kind of activity. Jumping the gun on this one may cause you to shoot your own group in the foot. This will happen in time, on time.
Practice 5 … Evangelize and Multiply in Your Group
- Groups that thrive must have goals that go beyond themselves. A group with an inward bent will become stagnant and die. But groups that are constantly and consistently reaching out to unbelievers and are excited about multiplying have an energy that is uncharacteristic of groups focused only on self. In order to keep a group in the adventure of making a difference in the world that group must keep their eyes and hearts on others.
- Pastor … the only way your groups will begin living in this realm of Christian community will be if you mention and model, mention in your sermons what is discussed above then model what is noted, followed by mentioning in your sermons how that went for you.
I pray your groups can be more than gatherings. I pray they become ridiculously radical. When that happens you, your group and all the groups you birth in the future will make an amazing difference in the world and ultimately the Kingdom.