Monday, October 07, 2013

Gospel-Centered Community or Christian Social Club?

Life in a small group community can be a fun, challenging, growing, difficult, and learning experience. These words provide a glimpse into the reason we keep showing up to our friend’s house on Sunday evenings, week-after-week, month-after-month, and possibly year-after-year. We desire to do life together with other believers.

Consistently gathering together with others who are experiencing life at the same harried pace you are offers us comfort, a moment to catch our breath and realize that we're not crazy, and a place we can be known and accepted.

This is good! Yet the descriptive words that I tossed out a moment ago may be clear indicators that your small group experience is really, really good. Yet in the midst of something you and others enjoy, there is the potential that your group could be missing the most important aspect of community life—the gospel!

I’ve recently been reading through the Book of Acts, and it’s caused me to wrestle with the question: What’s at the heart of a small group? I’ve come to realize that most small groups fit into one of two categories: either you’re in a gospel-centered community or you're participating in a Christian social club.

I’m sure that may seem a bit harsh at first, but the reality is that whenever believers gather together for a season of time, we gravitate to one side of the fence or the other. We either drift toward fun-loving fellowship or to gospel-centered intensity.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a great group of Christ-following friends. However, hanging out with Christian friends alone is not enough to produce consistent, fruit-bearing, spiritual growth.

Here’s what I mean:
  • Your group is either seeking God’s truth together in the Bible, or it’s not.
  • Your group is either seeking to allow the person of Jesus to be at the center of your meeting, or it’s not.
  • Your group is either engaging with the work of Jesus on the cross to transform your hearts and minds, or it’s not
  • Your group is either inviting the Holy Spirit to work in your lives, or it’s not.

This is not some legalistic plea to make your group more religious. Instead it is submitting everything you are, everything you do, and everything you face—to the feet of Jesus.

A gospel-centered small group community is centered on what the name might suggest; the intentional practice of placing the gospel at the center of every small group gathering. It really is about Jesus in your friendships, in your decision making, in your parenting, in the stewardship of your talents and treasures, in your pursuit of biblical truth—in everything! Jesus and His transforming work are brought to bear on all of life—the good, the bad, even the seemingly indifferent.

Does this describe your typical small group meeting? Or do chips and salsa, fantasy football teams, and creative ideas from Pinterest take precedent? Is the gospel of Jesus Christ the reason you meet? Is it what fuels the week ahead? Or are social interaction, casual conversation, and friendship at the true heart of your small group?

Lest you think this some anti-friendship, anti-laughter, or anti-fun post, rather it is a challenge to consider what is truly at the center of your small group?

Ultimately, we all desire and need genuine friendships and fun-loving interaction—but we need the gospel more!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Father’s Day Follow-Up

Father’s Day is one of those days. It strikes each one of us differently. Some have fond memories of their childhood because their Dad was the guy who played catch with them and then followed-up the fun with a quick trip to DQ for a twist cone. Others have sketchy memories because their childhood was dotted with moments of laugther and long periods without Dad around. Still others had a father whose behavior was so offensive it didn’t even endear him to a grace-giving child.

Looking past these quick caricatures of the father you had—or didn’t have—is risky for any community of faith. The relationship we had with our earthly father deeply influences our view of God, the way we treat our spouse, the way we parent our own children, the way we view work, and the way we view ourselves. (Just a few rather important things!)

Because of this, Father’s Day gives you a starting point for some rich discussion for your next small group meeting. Likely, this discussion won’t be easy, but it could be a discussion that just might open up deeper realities about the people and the stories represented in your small group community.

As you move into this disucussion, encourage your group members to consider the words of James about the consistent nature of our heavenly Father. 

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
James 1:17

Earthly fathers impact each one of us deeply—some help, some hurt, some harm. In the face of our own personal experience, strive to help your small group engage with the reality of their fatherly experience. And then, turn to the steady trustworthy character of our Heavenly Father. 

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Structure is a Blessing

Do you chafe under the weight of regulations, or are you liberated by parameters?

The idea of boundaries—or a lack thereof—is something for every small group leader to consider. Which environment works best for your small group? Which context is the best fit for your particular leadership style?

I met with a small group leader this week who had some interesting insight into the importance of structure.

His group began a few years back in the three-week Small Group Launch environment where we establish the biblical foundation for doing life together in community. We also unpack details of what small group community looks like at our church that might be different from other churches.

This structure proved helpful for the original four couples for the first few years of their time together. They thrived, in fact! Then, life change started happening. One couple moved to a new state. Another couple had a dramatic shift in their home life, and things began to change.

The remaining group members wanted to stay together, so they invited in some new couples (families) to join them. Over time, the couples and their children have integrated well. And they continue to do life together nearly five years after the group first began.

But something is different. Something that was hard for the leader to wrap his mind around initially. After months of processing and wrestling, he landed on what’s different. The new couples don’t have the same understanding, the same commitment to the group’s structure.

This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. But it is something the leader feels a strong desire to re-establish among his group—a commitment to everyone understanding the importance of group structure. His desire is not to be heavy-handed about it. Rather, he sees this as an opportunity to bring the group members closer together, and moving in the same direction.

Structure; without it, a small group can be good—but likely, will struggle to be great.