At the risk of making an endlessly ironic statement, I think the electronic world we live in has become both a mask for and a barrier to true community. Yeah, I said that in a blog post.
But here’s what I mean. Phrases like “the online community” and “the blogosphere,” and even “my friends,” have warped our understanding of what true community is, giving us a cheap, buffet-style, pseudo-community which provides just enough of a buzz to keep us from the real thing.
Think about it. How many “friends” do you have online that you’d call in a pinch? And how many “followers” do you have that you’d actually want to follow your offline activities? How many “groups” are you a part of that actually know who you are? And how many “likes” do you have to get before you feel renewed, validated, and accepted by this pseudo-community.
And in all the confusion, I think we’ve lost the idea of what real community is. So, here’s what I want to do: 1) provide a biblical definition of community, and then 2) lay out 8 thoughts that I think will absolutely destroy your community group (maybe even before it gets started).
We see pieces of the puzzle all over the Bible, from the national community of Israel, to the small group of fishermen who followed Jesus, to the house churches that emerged throughout the book of Acts and beyond. But theologically, I’m not sure that there’s a more succinct passage of Scripture on this topic than Colossians 3.
Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:9-14 ESV)
A few observations.
1. Community Renewed- A biblical community group is one that has been made new by the life-giving work of God in Christ (regeneration). You have been given a new heart. You are a new creation. You were brought from death to life. You are being conformed into the image of Jesus by His grace.
2. Community Reorganized- A biblical community group is not structured on the basis of race, background, socioeconomic status, cultural acceptance, or any such distinction. Greeks and Jews were not naturally inclined to be together. Barbarians and Scythians were thought of as dirty and vile. Slaves in this culture were enslaved because of their poverty (i.e. indentured servitude). If you were free, you were inherently richer than a slave (indentured servant). None of that has any bearing on the Christian community. The ground is level at the foot of the cross
3. Community Re-centered- Simply put, Christ is all and in all. He is the central pursuit of a biblical community. He is their desire. His glory is their aim. His mission is their mission. He is their everything.
4. Community Reconciled- A biblical community forgives one another on the basis of Christ’s forgiveness. They are reconciled in humility, patience, love, compassion, and more. All this is based on the life-giving love of Christ.
8 Thoughts That Will Wreck Your Community Group
As a result of this brief definition of biblical community, I see within our culture 10 thoughts that will absolutely destroy your group’s chances at the kind of community outlined in Scripture.1
8. I don’t like to be around people who are different from me. In light of the beauty of Paul’s statement in Colossians 3:11, how could such an argument hold any weight? One of the great beauties of the gospel is the fact that it compels people who are different to come together. In fact, unity in diversity actually glorifies God more than unity in uniformity. Why? Can you think of anything else that brings such a diverse group of people together for a meaningful and lasting cause? Only the gospel does that. Only grace can change your heart on that. Ask God to give you a desire to exalt His glory through the diversity of your group.
7. I’m too young to lead a group. This one is tricky because it has an air of humility, but may actually be grounded in fear and pride. I say “fear” because the longing for the approval of man drives us to think we have to “have everything together” before we can actually do anything for Jesus. Well, if that were the case, no one would do anything for Jesus. And I say “pride,” because it could actually be that you don’t want to get close enough to older saints for them to see the rough edges of you that need to be knocked off. You don’t want your corporate image to be tarnished. Your reputation would be shattered.
Paul told Timothy “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (1 Tim. 4:12).
It seems to me that if you are striving to honor God in those 5 areas, you are well on your way to becoming a great group leader.
6. The logistics of the whole thing are too messy. I get it. Childcare, food, space, time, etc., etc., etc. There are a million excuses for why you shouldn’t meet with a small group of believers. Your kid has soccer practice. The group doesn’t have childcare figured out. There’s simply not enough time in the week. These are all legitimate excuses.
But here’s what I know…there are many things in your life that were logistically difficult at one point, before you intentionally figured them out. That’s the point: you were intentional. Your kid’s soccer practice is important. So, you figure out who’s taking him and who’s picking up and how you’re going to afford his uniform and all those things. You figured it out because it was important.
Don’t get caught in the weeds. Take it one step at a time. And be intentional. The Bible makes it pretty clear that you need community. Make it important.
5. I don’t like to confess my sin before others. Well, take a number. No one likes to confess their sins. That’s not the point. Here’s the point:
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (James 5:16 ESV)
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7 ESV)
Accountability is a beautiful gift from God. You need to be accountable to someone. Why not be accountable to a small group of believers who is going to encourage you, pray for you, and point you to Christ?
4. I’m single, and everyone in the group is married. Um…that’s like saying: “I’m ten and my parents are forty, so I shouldn’t be around them.” Hello! If you are single, what better place for you to learn about what it means to be a part of a God-honoring family than in a community group setting! How valuable would it be to see husbands and wives walking together with their community and confessing their sins? How much could you learn? How much better prepared for marriage would you be?
Singles, the community needs you just as much as you need the community. Lean into the church, not away. And if you are divorced, please don’t let this hold you back. Again, the ground is level at the foot of the cross.
Singles, you are valuable to the church.
And, by the way, what better place to meet God-honoring singles than in a small group community?
3. I’m not sure I’m committed to this church. I’m still looking around. Two words. Man Up. Or Woman Up. Stop “shopping,” and find a place to become accountable. Don’t like a certain church’s doctrine? Find one that holds to faithful, biblical Christian doctrine and engage there. Don’t focus on petty things like the color of the flowers, the voice of the worship leader, or the trendiness of the website. We are so spoiled by a plethora of churches that we can find an excuse to leave anywhere. But there are places on Earth where this is not the case. The community of faith rallies around the gospel and the exaltation of Christ. Commit to a local body. Be accountable. Stop shopping.
2. These groups are doing (x,y,z…), and our group isn’t. Teddy Roosevelt hit the nail on the head when he said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Don’t compare yourself to other groups. You are not them. You are you. Your group is your group. You have the members that you have. God has orchestrated it to be this way. He has organized the gift-mix of your group, and he has given your members their passions and desires. So…study the Bible together, pray together, eat together, fellowship together (Acts 2:42), and do what your group does.
1. It’s just not worth it. It’s too much work to leave my Sunday School class or to rearrange my Sunday morning. If I get in a community group, I will have to be committed to people, and people are messy. People take time. People can be needy, and I’m just not sure it’s worth it.
Friend, you couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, it was worth Jesus dying for. It cost him everything.
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, (Ephesians 2:14-19 ESV)
It was worth it to Jesus. You were worth it to Jesus. You have been adopted into the family of God. So, the question is…now what’s your excuse?
Soli Deo Gloria
1 For a more thorough treatment of biblical community, see chapter 10 of my new book, Gospel Regeneration.