Growing Hearts in Community
…be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Southeastern folks who were present last Sunday know that we have begun the lead up to a “reset” of our small groups ministry. Now, I know that this blog is supposed to be a place where the leadership of Southeastern talks about what it means to grow in Christ and our individual experiences in that journey. But that is precisely why I want to take the time to do some shameless promotion of small group participation. Because being deeply involved in the lives of fellow believers (and small groups are an excellent way to do that) is critical to our growth in Christ.
As we noted in the sermon last week, God works with groups of people, and even in those places in the Biblical narrative when he works with individuals, it is most often for the benefit of a larger group of people.
For instance: When someone becomes a Christ-follower, it is not merely a “salvation transaction.” No, she becomes part of the church, a “fellowship of differents” (to borrow Scot McKnight’s wonderful phrase), where she has a contribution to make to the spiritual health and vitality of the whole even as her spiritual health and vitality is contributed to by others in the fellowship.
There’s a principle at work here, one that may go back to the fact that we were created by a relational God: We become our best selves in relationship with others. It’s a principle captured in the wisdom of Israel: Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens [the face of] another (Proverbs 27.17). (Our English translations usually leave out that little bit in the brackets; typically for the Hebrew language, it earthily, graphically illustrates the point that we are shaped in the most fundamental ways by our (face to face) relationships.)
More than 50 times in the New Testament, Christ-followers are told to do something to or something for “one another” or “each other.” “One another” or “each other” means “your fellow Christ-followers.” The most common “one another” command – by far – is to “love one another.” All of these things are things you cannot do from a distance. They are all things that require us to be (actually, not just “virtually”) part of one another’s lives.
And just being in the same large room on Sunday mornings does not mean you are a part of another believer’s life. Where are we investing in the lives of fellow Christ-followers, not just hitting the thumb-up “like” icon? Who is investing in our spiritual well-being?
That’s where small groups can come in on several levels.
For one: We may not be able invest in (sharpen) the lives of 300 people; in fact, that sounds nothing short of overwhelming, the kind of task you give up on before you start. No, we may not be able invest in (sharpen) the lives of 300 people, but we can invest in the lives of 10-12.
For another: We seldom truly process the teaching and preaching we get in our classes and in sermons. We tend to treat those things like an event that had a very short shelf life. But when we are teaching and preaching from the word of God, we are dealing with something that has no expiration date. In fact, we are dealing with something that must be newly applied and lived out in changing situations. Frankly, there are ways in which living for Christ today is not like living for Christ 50 years ago. Or, even 10 years ago. Where are we finding wisdom for applying God’s word in such a time? Is that not perhaps exactly how one person (of faith) can be sharpening another? Who do you get with to process how to live out the word of God?
Beginning in late September, our default setting for our groups will be that the Bible study portion will seek to discuss how we apply the lesson of the sermon that week. Joey ran this approach on a test basis in a couple of groups in the spring with very good results. This fall, we move to that being the “preferred” setting for all of our groups, so that all of us can be working together toward the same goals spiritually.
Think of our groups as “fellowships for discipleship.”
We will continue to talk about this more in the sermons this week and on August 23 and 30. But here are some things to keep in mind as we move forward. In fact, think of this as something of a study guide a teacher gives you before a test: I’m hoping that after you think about it and prepare for it, you will have an answer ready when you are asked about participating in a group in a few weeks.
If you have any interest in leading or co-leading a group or hosting a group, contact me now. We’ll be starting our training soon. (If you are uncertain about whether or not you are interested, contact me now.)
Keep on praying about your participation in one of our small groups and be prepared to signal your interest in a few weeks when we ask for you to sign up to be a participant.
The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.
– Ephesians 4.11-13