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Relationships Matter

Jesus is the Lord of His church!  That means that He is the boss and He calls the shots.  Jesus challenges us to be a church that is biblical, relational, and missional.  Revelation chapters 2 and 3 make it clear that the connecting ingredient that made His churches bring Him glory was when they recognized Him as their Lord and Master. Six of the seven churches of Asia received some kind of compliment from Christ.  As you read His admonitions to these churches it becomes apparent that all of His churches are important and all are significant to Him.

The biblical mandate is for a group of believers to join together in a local church to carry out His Great Commission. Thankfully, believers are not expected to do this alone or to be transformed alone.  Christ has always desired for us to live, grow, and serve in community and fellowship with others.  When Saul was saved in Acts 9 the Lord told Ananias to go get him and help him.  It has been said that, “Transformation is a communal experience, not an individual exercise.”  The greatest potential to grow in Christ is realized in community with other believers.

Surveys tell us that when we connect attenders to small groups that they are five times more likely to still be faithful to church five years later. That is a great thing to know and we should believe in and promote the benefit of small groups but we are not driven primarily by pragmatism.  Jesus came and focused His time on a small group where He built relationships and did life with twelve men.  The reason we should be sold on small groups is far more theological than just the fact that it is effective.  Small groups are biblical and critical to our spiritual growth.           

The power and the benefit of community is a biblical fact and not just a passing fad.  Think of how we are commanded to meet together.  Even the Greek word for church, ecclesia, is plural and means “called-out ones.”  It is not the called out one or individual but overwhelmingly refers to that local congregation of baptized believers who are doing life together in order to live on His mission.  The importance of being a part of a local congregation cannot be overstated.  It is essential to our growing and maturing into whom Christ wants us to be.

If we choose to grow on our own by ourselves that growth will be much slower that it was meant to be, at best, and it will be very warped growth, at worst. We must teach with confidence a theology of community.  We were created for community and there is no way we can fulfill the over thirty “one anothers” (pray for, comfort, forgive, etc.) without community.  God’s plan is for every one of us to find a biblically sound group of committed believers to fellowship with and carry out His mission together. 

  1. Small groups are where real and lasting transformation can occur.  They do not guarantee spiritual growth but are a tool that Jesus used and challenges us to use at well.  The goal is not a method that generates numeric growth but rather an environment where every person in the church can become a mature disciple of Jesus Christ!  Small groups should not be seen by your church as an option but rather seen as a biblical mandate for returning us to the environment for which God created us. Hebrews says clearly, “Not staying away from our worship meetings.”
  2. Worship is what connects us to the Lord while small groups connect us to one another.  Then we are connected to the mission He has called us to carry out.  You cannot deny the truth that we need one another, we are better together, and God intended from the beginning that we never follow Him alone.  We should always be willing to proceed alone if required but we should never have to. It is not God’s primary mode of operation.  Community is the structure that God has always intended for His churches in order to care for and shepherd one another.

Hebrews 10:22-24 gives us three plural admonitions, “Let us.”  Verse 22 says, “Let us draw near.”  The beauty of seeking Him together is having a community of believers where we can love and be loved, know and be known, serve and be served.  In verse 23 we are challenged, “Let us hold on to the confession.” We lean on one another with a willingness to bear one another’s burdens.  When we have a church family we know that we have the support of others who have our back.  They understand the struggles and spiritual battles of following Christ.

 Community is essential to our spiritual growth and Hebrews 10:24 says, “Let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works.”  The theology of community throughout the scriptures makes it clear that we need the church and the church needs us.  Let us encourage one another daily and lovingly hold one another accountable.  Romans 15:7 says, “Therefore accept one another, just as the Messiah also accepted you to the glory of God.”

Yes, small groups work and they are beneficial to individual growth and the entire health of the church.  This is the biblical mandate and this is God’s plan.  One author puts it this way, “We’re not saying growth doesn’t happen apart from community.  But we don’t think it’s possible for formation to fully occur without community.” When we get into biblical community we are returning to what God intended from the very beginning!

Connected to One Another

Small Groups

Our first priority is to worship God and keep Him as the focus of our lives. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was He replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” We must remain centered on God by protecting our relationship with Him through the practice of spiritual disciplines. If we are going to lead others, we must remember to lead ourselves well first. The speed of the leader does determine the speed of the team.

Yes, centered on God but we can’t stop there. We must also focus on how we will treat others around us and those closest to us. Jesus went on to say in the great commandment that we are to “Love our neighbors as ourselves.” How connected are we to our spiritual family? How connected are we to a local body of believers? How connected are we to a small group that challenges us to continue in the faith and holds us accountable? We must develop daily habits and practices that create community!

We must remember I John 4:20-21, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” The book of Acts details the journeys of the early believers for us and we see God’s people meeting in large groups and in small groups. Fellowship with other believers is a part of God’s plan for us to grow spiritually.

How do you connect people in your church to a small group that will love them, care for them, challenge them, encourage them, pray for them, and hold them accountable? That is what biblical community looks like! Yes, we all need to worship together and that is great but we also need to connect with one another on a much deeper level. That usually cannot occur in a larger setting but it can in small groups. It seems that Jesus choose 12 for a reason and Jethro told Moses to divide into groups of ten.

There is nothing magical about a particular number nor should we become legalistic but it is hard to open up individually in groups of 40-50 or larger. There are many benefits of small groups but the overall motivation is helping people move from being consumers to becoming contributors. This is not about finances but rather giving our lives to serve others. Individuals who only attend the larger events, if they stay there too long, will be tempted to function as spectators and not vested participants.

Circles of commitment were introduced by Rick Warren in The Purpose Driven Church and focused on us moving people from Community, to Crowd, to Congregation, to Committed, and then to Core. The idea is helping a person to spiritually mature from a very low commitment level to a very high commitment level. Small groups are where they can connect more intimately with a fellow group of Christ followers who are facing the same challenges and are willing to help one another along the way.

Small groups are one of the best ways to minister to people and make sure they are being properly loved and cared for. Here are some of the benefits of small groups:

  • It builds community! Acts 2:42 says, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” The smaller setting gives time for sharing blessings and burdens. Community is defined as, “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common. A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.”
  • It provides a place where you are safe! You have an awareness that everyone is broken and has challenges. You are able to be open and transparent with one another, knowing that your group will practice confidentiality when needed. There is a spirit of grace and forgiveness present that promotes Gal. 6:1-2, “Brothers,if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
  • It is a family! You are brothers and sisters in the family of God and a small group begins to function as a family unit. Oasis Church in North Little Rock, AR, says it this way in their core values, “We believe in talking to people not about people. We value resolving differences with one another. We believe that gossip and slander are toxic to our church family. We encourage talking to those who have offended us with the goal of reconciliation. We value speaking to the person in the right way, with the right motive, and at the right time.”

Small groups provide an excellent system to make sure people are being cared for spiritually first and also physically, emotionally, and relationally. They stay connected and cannot fall through the cracks unnoticed by the crowd. When they are sick, the members of the small group are the first responders. When they need prayer their small group is their prayer warriors. When they are struggling and need encouragement their small group is their cheering squad.

We must remain centered on God by loving Him more. Then we must stay connected to one another through meaningful spiritual relationships that build a sense of camaraderie. This is defined as, “a feeling of good friendship among the people in a group.” Friends of God and friends to one another that you can count on. Loving God more and loving one another more!

When you think of community and being connected to one another here is how you can describe it:

  • People Knowing and Being Known
  • People Loving and Being Loved
  • People Serving and Being Served
  • People Celebrating and Being Celebrated

Pastor, You Need A Friend

With recently hearing that 50 pastors a day are leaving the ministry my prayer is that this repost will be an encouragement to you.  You are not in this alone!!!

   Paul Becker of Dynamic Church Planting International recently shared this story. “Sundar Singh, a Christian missionary, was walking across the Himalaya Mountains from India to Tibet.  He was walking with another man to a village.  The weather was terrible.  It was extremely cold and stormy.  There was snow and ice on the trail and they were at a very high altitude.  Suddenly, Sundar looked down and saw a man who had fallen.  He said to his traveling companion, ‘We must go and save that man.’  But his companion said, ‘No.  If we try to save him, we will all die.’ 

     Sundar insisted on helping the fallen man.  His companion kept walking toward the village alone.  Sundar reached the fallen man and helped him up.  With their arms around each other’s shoulders, they struggled toward the village.  Just before they got there, they saw a man frozen to death on the trail.  It was Sundar’s first companion.  Sundar realized that it was their body heat and their struggle together that had kept him and the fallen man alive.”  We need each other!

     Ecclesiastes 4:11 says, “Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone?”  Life change does not happen in a vacuum; it happens in relationship with others.  Ministry was never meant to be done by Lone Rangers!  According to H. B. London, Jr. in Pastors at Greater Risk, 70 percent of all pastors do not have someone they consider a close friend.  Ron Edmondson offers these seven suggestions for a pastor and pastor’s spouse finding friends:

     Be willing to go outside the church – The simple fact is that there may not be someone you can truly trust, who is willing to keep confidences, and willing to always be in your corner, inside the church. Much of this will depend on the size of your church. I have a few of these friends in our church, but it is fairly large. I also have some true friends outside the church.

     Consider bonding with another pastor – I guarantee you…not too far from you is a pastor just as lonely or in need of a friend as you are feeling. I’ve found that if I follow the Tweets, blog posts, Facebook updates, or check out the church website of another pastor that I can find out a lot about our similarities. Then I take a chance and reach out to him. You can begin a relationship online and turn it into a vital relationship. This is valuable enough to Cheryl and me that we’ve been willing to invest in traveling to visit with friends who live in other cities, but chances are good for most pastors they won’t have to travel that far.

     Build the relationship slowly – I’ve seen too many times where a person wants an intimate, accountable, life-giving relationship that begins instantly. I’m sure that happens occasionally, but I don’t think it’s the normal way. Take some time to invest in the friendship. My guess is you’re looking for a longer-term relationship, so be willing to build it over a long-term.

     Find common ground – Do you enjoy fishing, dining, travel, golf, or Nascar? Who are some people, whether pastors or laypeople who have similar interests to you? Take an afternoon to play a round of golf with them. Ask them to lunch. Hang out with them. I meet with a friend now regularly that I met this way. We simply started having lunch together. We’ve since traveled together as couples, but it started with a lunch invitation to a guy I saw who seemed to enjoy the subject of leadership as much as I did.

     Look for someone healthy – This is critical. You won’t find someone perfect, but you need someone who is not looking for you to always be the minister. They do exist. Most of the time as pastors our attention is focused more on the ones desperate for our attention. Who are the people around you who don’t need much from you right now? You’ll need this healthy relationship to nourish you when you don’t feel as healthy.

     Be intentional – You don’t often find a friend unless you go looking for one. Recognize the value in true friends, make it a matter of prayer and a goal for your life, then begin to look for one. I’ve found I’m more likely to hit a target I am specifically aiming to hit.

     Take a risk – You’ll eventually have to make yourself vulnerable and risk being hurt to find true friends. I realize that is scary, especially if you’ve been hurt before, but finding true friendships is worth the risk. Be careful building these type friendships, but don’t allow fear to keep you from having them.

     Pastor, you need a friend!