If you’re a Jesus follower, you need to have some other Jesus followers in your life for mutual encouragement and accountability. It’s one of the habits of spiritual maturity – gathering with the church as a body for worship and scattering with small groups to do life together.
It’s impossible for a Pastor or even a church staff to care for the spiritual, emotional, and social needs of every individual and family in a congregation. Expecting them to do so places an unscriptural and undue burden on them and creates unrealistic and bound-to-be-unmet expectations in the minds of church members. I mentioned this in a post I wrote last weekend about how I’m sorry when I let people down. In that post, I raised a question. Who then cares for the individuals within a church family? And I answered it. “The individuals do.”
The New Testament is stuffed with pertinent verses about how relationships within the body of Christ should work. We often refer to these as the “one another” passages of the Bible. According to Carl George, there are at least 58 of these “one another” challenges in the New Testament. Just read through them…
- “…Be at peace with each other.” (Mark 9:50)
- “…Wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14)
- “…Love one another…” (John 13:34)
- “…Love one another…” (John 13:34)
- “…Love one another…” (John 13:35)
- “…Love one another…” (John 15:12)
- “…Love one another” (John 15:17)
- “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love…” (Romans 12:10)
- “…Honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12:10)
- “Live in harmony with one another…” (Romans 12:16)
- “…Love one another…” (Romans 13:8)
- “…Stop passing judgment on one another.” (Romans 14:13)
- “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you…” (Romans 15:7)
- “…Instruct one another.” (Romans 15:14)
- “Greet one another with a holy kiss…” (Romans 16:16)
- “…When you come together to eat, wait for each other.” (I Cor. 11:33)
- “…Have equal concern for each other.” (I Corinthians 12:25)
- “…Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (I Corinthians 16:20)
- “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (II Corinthians 13:12)
- “…Serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5:13)
- “If you keep on biting and devouring each other…you will be destroyed by each other.” (Galatians 5:15)
- “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” (Galatians 5:26)
- “Carry each other’s burdens…” (Galatians 6:2)
- “…Be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)
- “Be kind and compassionate to one another…” (Ephesians 4:32)
- “…Forgiving each other…” (Ephesians 4:32)
- “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” (Ephesians 5:19)
- “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21)
- “…In humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)30. “Do not lie to each other…” (Colossians 3:9)
- “Bear with each other…” (Colossians 3:13)
- “…Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.” (Colossians 3:13)
- “Teach…[one another]” (Colossians 3:16)
- “…Admonish one another (Colossians 3:16)
- “…Make your love increase and overflow for each other.” (I Thessalonians 3:12)
- “…Love each other.” (I Thessalonians 4:9)
- “…Encourage each other…”(I Thessalonians 4:18)
- “…Encourage each other…” I Thessalonians 5:11)
- “…Build each other up…” (I Thessalonians 5:11)
- “Encourage one another daily…” Hebrews 3:13)
- “…Spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24)
- “…Encourage one another.” (Hebrews 10:25)
- “…Do not slander one another.” (James 4:11)
- “Don’t grumble against each other…” (James 5:9)
- “Confess your sins to each other…” (James 5:16)
- “…Pray for each other.” (James 5:16)
- “…Love one another deeply, from the heart.” (I Peter 3:8)
- “…Live in harmony with one another…” (I Peter 3:8)
- “…Love each other deeply…” (I Peter 4:8)
- “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (I Peter 4:9)
- “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others…” (I Peter 4:10)
- “…Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another…”(I Peter 5:5)
- “Greet one another with a kiss of love.” (I Peter 5:14)
- “…Love one another.” (I John 3:11)
- “…Love one another.” (I John 3:23)
- “…Love one another.” (I John 4:7)
- “…Love one another.” (I John 4:11)
- “…Love one another.” (I John 4:12)
- “…Love one another.” (II John 5)
As I said in the previous post, new believers need the care and leadership of others within the church, but as a believer grows, they begin to “own the mission” of “being the church” (or at least this is the expected path of growth and progress). Just imagine with me for a second what it would look like for a Spirit-filled church to practice even half of the one another’s on a consistent basis.
And how? How can people care for others at this level when they only see each other at church on Sunday? And that is part of the problem! We often never move beyond spectator status in the weekend service. We need to go deeper with God and with each other. I think the church becomes family as we get closer in proximity to each other, do life with each other, and relate to each other beyond Sunday’s service.
- At the weekend gathering, we practice the one another’s very briefly and with many people.
- In small groups, we practice the one another’s more in depth, with fewer people, and outside the service and even the group meeting.
- One-on-one, over coffee, playing golf, or serving in a soup line with close friends, we practice the one another’s even more in depth with just one or two people.
It is the role of church leaders to try to create a church structure that opens up the capacity for the one another’s to happen, but ministry leaders can only do so much. The whole body, however, when it is fitly framed together, grows up into a mature family.
Go love one another deeply, from the heart. (It’s #46.)
photo credit: super.heavy
Some churches raise the bar when it comes to recruiting small group leaders. You need to be a member for X amount of time, well versed in the church’s doctrinal statement, agree to a lifestyle covenant, etc. The more qualified the leader, the stronger the group will be… or so goes conventional wisdom. But is that really true?
My friend Ron Wilbur, one of Saddleback’s Small Groups Pastors, once told me I’d probably make a terrible small group leader. It wasn’t that he was trying to discourage me. Ron taught me something valuable when he said, “your tendency will be to teach and answer all the questions, and you’ll kill the discussion and short-circuit the relationship-building process.” Now that I lead a small group in my home, I have to agree with Ron. If I’m not careful and intentional, I’ll be the bottleneck that holds my group back from being a healthy micro-community.
So if we’re not looking for long term members and Bible scholars, who makes the best group hosts? Most commonly, new believers in Christ, but I would expand that criteria to include anyone with these key characteristics.
The Best Hosts Are Facilitators, Not Lecturers
I’m all for one-to-many communication, and I think preaching is getting sidelined a bit too much in our modern obsession with one-on-one discipleship. But a small group isn’t the arena for a lecture, it’s a conversation in a circle of chairs where everyone asks questions and everyone speaks up. Good hosts understand the power of leaving good questions unanswered and throwing them back into the ring.
The Best Hosts Include People Far From God
Rather than seeing a small group as a holy huddle or a gathering of the frozen chosen, great hosts remind themselves and their group that we have a common mission to accomplish – including everyone in God’s family so they can encounter Christ in an atmosphere where they are accepted by friends.
The Best Hosts Are Fellow Students, Not Experts
Small group leaders who facilitate growth in their groups don’t have all the answers, and don’t try to appear to have all the answers. Instead, they are fellow discoverers who participate in the group’s journey into greater knowledge and spiritual depth. How then are we to protect groups from doctrinal errors spread by well-meaning new believers? We trust the pastors, to whom the assignment of guarding the flock was given, to mentor leaders to a more thorough knowledge of biblical truth.
The Best Hosts SPEAK Human
Instead of speaking Christianese, they speak human. My Pastor gave me an acronym to remember a basic approach to human conversation…
S – What’s your story?
P – What’s your passion?
E – How can I encourage you?
A – Ask, what can I do to help you?
K – Who do you know that I should know?
The Best Hosts Don’t Have It All Together
Not only do they not have it all together, but they’re willing to be open and honest about not having it all together. Life change only happens as masks are removed.
The Best Hosts Dream of Multiplying
Great small group hosts realize that group time is not just a social hour or a Bible class. It’s a time when God’s people get together to do life together, and to live missionally together. So the host is always looking around the group and asking, “who can I pour into next so that we can send out a leader to launch another group?”
The world around us is not impressed when we’ve amassed knowledge without living differently as a result. But as long as Christians are impressed with the same, we’ll never create a small group culture conducive to involving the surrounding world in the conversation. The best small group hosts love Jesus and love people, but are also real enough to relate to people and build genuine friendships.
I’m not the best small group host. But perhaps you’ve got what it takes? There’s only one way to know. Go start a group.
Photo by katiew
Huntington Beach represents authentic southern California beach culture. You’ve got bodybuilders working out on the sand, skateboards and bikes covering the boardwalk, and street performers driving nails up their noses for tip money. My family and I visited there yesterday with the Krumm’s, friends of ours here in Orange County. It was a fascinating taste of local culture for us and in the midst of that experience, I observed some of the markings of genuine community.
Note the picture…
When we started to head up onto the pier, this crowd was starting to gather on a sort of amphitheater area. A couple of guys had different kinds of drums and had randomly gathered together to play. By the time we walked the pier, ate lunch, and returned, the crowd had grown. When we left, there were over a dozen drummers of all sorts, somehow playing with equal rhythm.
Note the lady in the blue skirt. My guess is that she was about sixty-five years old, but she was the leader of the community of drummers for the moment. She was smiling, dancing, and shaking the tambourine. She seemed to gather others around her to join in. She wasn’t there when we left, but she was a chief evangelist for belonging to the group.
As I walked away, I began to think through some aspects of genuine community I saw represented in that group of drummers that, sadly, I see missing in many churches. Let me share a few with you…
- There was a diversity of people. Folks of every color and hair style had gathered together. And it seemed to happen without effort, just naturally. How I wish we could see a natural gathering of people from all walks of life together on Sundays. That’s certainly how things will be in eternity. (Rev. 5:9-10)
- There was an open acceptance of differences. Some had dreadlocks. I saw one guy with a green mohawk. There were “old beach dudes” and young surfer types. I’m not encouraging green mohawks, but I do think that the front doors of any church should be one of the most welcoming and accepting places on the planet.
- The people had gathered together around a common theme – music. This common theme bound them together even without words being shared between them. A church, by its biblical definition, is a called-out assembly of people, all washed in the blood of Jesus and baptized into communion and fellowship with each other, tied together by a common covenant and commitment to the cause of sharing Christ with the world.
- There were leaders. I don’t know who they were. You couldn’t identify them by looking at the crowd. But I was a little amazed when those dozen drummers just decided to suddenly change rhythms. It happened as we were walking away and I stopped, looked back, and asked my friend Chuck, “I wonder who led them in changing rhythms?” Out of real community, change agents emerge.
If any group in the world should exemplify the deepest meanings of community, it should be the church, both in a macro-sense (the corporate body gathered for worship) and in a micro-sense (in small groups, Sunday School classes, etc.). There should be acceptance, diversity, communion, and leadership.
There is a difference between a club and a community. In a club, we scribble on the door, “NO GIRLS (OR BOYS) ALOUD.” We have our secret passwords, handshakes, and oaths. Many churches are simply clubs. Sure, we’re gathered in the name of Jesus, but our concern is for US.
A community shares similar characteristics with a club. There is a common theme, such as the cross and resurrection of Christ, but there is a willingness to embrace others outside the doors and draw them into the family.
It’s sad when a random gathering of drummers and dancers on a beach outperform the church at the task of building community. We should be excelling – community should be one of our specialties. But I suppose someone has to decide lead us…
One of my favorite websites is The Daily Spurgeon where my friend Nick spends a lot of valuable time culling the pages of Spurgeons sermons and works to offer up a daily couple of paragraphs from one of history’s greatest preachers. Today, Spurgeon echoed something that has been on my mind lately about Loving the Brethren.
Basically, we can stand against what we interpret to be biblical error, we can expose falsities, and we can disagree strongly, but we ought to love the brethren and the sistren (my own word). I disagree with many modern movements and emphases and I’ll mention those errors in my teaching, but I love godly people who seek the glory of Christ. Just a thought. We ought to love each other even when we disagree – pretty simple.
As Luke records it in Luke 22:14-23, Jesus sat at a table with the apostles to celebrate the Lord’s Supper with them. Then He promised that someday, they would sit at another table with Him in the Kingdom. Many Christians see the communion table as more of an altar – a place of ongoing sacrifice, but I believe it was intended to be seen as a table. What’s the difference?
Nobody is closer to me than my wife and daughter, whom the church which I attend could never replace. But I remember Rick Warren talking about how we should be “doing life together” with our church family because we’re really preparing to live with them as family for all of eternity. Today reminded me of what it means to be a church family.
First, a friend in our church brought me a baseball and an 8×10 photo autographed by Ozzie Smith! Harold knew I loved baseball, so he went out of his way at work last week to get to the table where “the Wizard” was signing and he had me on his mind. That’s family!
Then, we worshipped together. We’ve gone to two services, which has worked out well – our overall attendance has actually jumped considerably. But today, we combined into one service and had to put out some chairs to contain the crowd. The children’s choir sang for us and then we all had lunch together in our gym. So we ate together, which is a very emotionally connecting activity. Eating together… praising God together… that’s family!
And in our evening service, we shared testimonies of thanksgiving. Many of us cried, we laughed, and we rejoiced that God has carried us through great growth and many changes in the last year and has bound us together as brothers and sisters on the same side.
God has surrounded my family with a great church family that acts like family, and I love them!! I praise God for them, and I’m thankful, so thankful that I get to spend eternity with such wonderful people!