Monday, May 16, 2011

Communities within Community

This past month my church participated in a Natural Church Development Survey.  You know those surveys that ask you how you feel about the worship, what do you think of church leadership, etc..  This last week we met regarding the results.  There were really no surprises, but a lot of concerns.  A major deficit in our church appears to be in the lack thereof or complete disregard of small groups.  One of our council members even acknowledged that they had not focused on small groups in a  long time.  

There was a  lot of discussion and numerous comments regarding the small group dilemma:
  • I meet with three other men over coffee and we have various conversations.  Is that a small group?
  • My small group is not even affiliated with the church.
  • We meet every Sunday after church and hang out
  • Why do we have to sit down and study some book?
  • We should organize people into small groups.
  • Why are we even worried about small groups, they're not even in the Bible?
WHAT!  That last one threw me for a loop.  They are in the Bible.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. 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 2:42-47 NIV84)
After Pentecost, where the Spirit ignited and moved among the people, 3000 people became new believers.  These people then didn't just sit around either and discuss what should or could be done - they just did.  They met continually with each other in study, in fellowship, in communion and in prayer.  

I know many of us think of small groups traditionally as a group of believers just sitting down with our Beth Moore studies or some book regarding a book of the Bible.  These believers did just that.  They studied the stories of Jesus.  They studied the teachings of the letters of Peter and Paul.  But I think that the study of the teachings doesn't just have to be looking at some book, but by holding each other accountable to the teachings.  Just getting together with a group of men and encouraging and challenging each other in their walks is great spiritual teaching.  Learning from each others' testimonies, trials and triumphs sometimes are the best expressions of God work and those stories stay with us.  In know my Babes do a traditional study, but some of the best lessons I have learned, haven't been from the studies we have done, but have been from watching each of their walks and how God has worked in each of them.
The group of that "hung out" together were the group that didn't want to be pigeonholed into studying.  They just wanted to hang out, play music, have fun.  This is what we are called to do.  To be in fellowship.  To enjoy each others company.  To encourage each other.  To laugh with each other.  To praise God in worship with each other.  However, it can't just become a group where you don't hold each other accountable.  Where you don't question?  We need to support each other, but we also need to ask those tough questions of each other.  When I first went to our church I was part of a Mom's Group, where we did mostly socialize, but we also talked about our struggles - not just as moms and wives, but as daughters of God.  We held each other and prayed for each other.  We did fun things every week, but we also read devotions and encouraged conversations regarding those devotions that challenged each of us.  A group that just "hangs out" is in danger of not "growing" or growing stagnant as the foundation is not there.

The early believers prayed for each other.  In fact, Paul stated:
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Ephesians 6:18 NIV84
We are to lift each other up in prayer and praise.  God wants us to give everything over to Him. Sometimes in our deepest trials, when we feel alone, we need that group of believers around us, interceding on our behalf; saying the words we cannot because we are too broken.  It can also be a group to get down and praise for all that God has done and continues to do in us.  The best example of this is shown in the book series the Yada Yada Sisterhood.  These books describe a group of ladies of different social and economic backgrounds and how they lifted each other up in prayer at all times and in all ways.

Did you also notice that the new believers "broke bread" together.  I know some commentators say this is about eating together.  But another verse also uses the broke bread terminology.
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Mark 14:22 NIV84
These believers celebrated what brings us all together in remembrance of Jesus and what he gave us - His Body for our deliverance.  This is something we still do two millennial later.   Many of us do not do this in a small group setting.  I experienced communion during a small group evening with adults with various disabilities.  This still in my memory was the most moving and spiritual times I have ever partaken of communion.  Sharing the gift with people who loved me for just being me; just as God loves me for me. 
I know many people get stuck on the legalities of small groups.  When and how they should meet?  How many people should be in a group?  Should they be in groups based on age, sex or interests?  I think instead of thinking about the schematics, we should look at what they are:  communities within community.  We are not to close ourselves off to the larger community, but we should have a close group of people to share our pains and joys with and to build relationships.  We need to encourage each other to build a community in a way that it strengthens and challenges their walks.  

What does a small group look like to you?

I'm linking up with Soli Deo Gloria Sisterhood at Finding Heaven.



I am popping over from Gg - Notes on the Journey to say thanks from the bottom of my heart for your recent support during my dad's open heart surgery. He is doing so well.

Over 60 comments with prayers and well wishes, including yours. Such sweetness. It helped me not feel quite so alone, having recently moved to Chicago.


ps. I love living life together in genuine community. It is hard to find.

marlece said...

I go to a huge church and I know that if I wasn't apart of a small group I would feel like a number and that is it. Small groups create relationship and that is what the Father is after in all of us with Himself and with others.

Cj Carleton said...

Our church just did the Natural Church Development and we just had our meeting about the results on Saturday night. What a surprize to see that you just did it as well. I was surprized but not shocked at our results. It is good to see where we are and where we can grow. Excited to see what the future holds!

Jenny Roan Forgey said...

I totally agree - it's important that, especially at church, we don't allow ourselves to stay too surface-y. We need to push ourselves toward vulnerability and, therefore, trust.

One of my pastors once said to me that a group that is inwardly focused will eventually die out. That, in order to thrive, the small group needs to have the same outward vision. In other words, we need to be standing together looking in the same direction ("keeping our eyes fixed on what lies ahead, we run the race...."). I think about that a lot when I think about small groups - that balance between caring for one another and pursuing Jesus together.

Jen said...

Throughout my whole life, I think I have been a part of small groups. They all looked different and may have had different foci, but the community that was there was what Jesus used to sustain me many times. I think they are so vital -- the accountability and love pieces are vital.

Tiffini said...

I agree with you have a small group in which you can grow have accountability..go through thick and thin..people close enough to REALLY pray for you...that kind of thing. I also agree with Glenda. It is hard to find. Wishing you a evening of peace

Donnetta said...

We have been working on the "small group" concept for some time at our church. It has been in just the last year or so that they are really coming together as strong, healthy groups.

You're right on... small groups allow for the "doing life together" that just being together on Sunday mornings doesn't allow for.

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