After the snail's pace of Summer, things are starting to move like one of those land crabs I keep trying to ward away from our outdoor laundry room (with an old golf club & useless, nonsensical shouts -- pretty sure it doesn't have a sense of hearing). Anywho, things are picking back up in our congregation -- auditorium is filling in and a number of people seem genuinely excited to grow in Christ.
Mark 10:29-30 29 "I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields-- and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.
This may seem a strange couple of verses with which to begin this Vision; however, not only is Jesus talking here about the church but through this statement we are reminded of what is most important in life –relationships. Relationships comprise, at once, both our greatest sacrifice for following Jesus but also the greatest blessing that He longs to give back.
This is what church is all about: Relationship – both with God & with one another. What a privilege we have in God’s church to share in relationships that will last for eternity! At SCC, the chief opportunity to cultivate and develop such relationships is in our Community Groups. Thus, we believe Community Groups will become the “backbone” of SCC.
What is a Community Group?
Community Groups are basic Christian communities. Believing that the biblical pursuits of discipleship and evangelism are best carried out in a community context, Community Groups provide that context. They are gatherings of 8-14 people meeting in the homes of individuals or families on a weekly basis. In Community Groups, people come to know God and to experience his presence, community is developed and fostered, and people are nurtured, equipped and released for God’s work in the world. They provide an opportunity for intimacy, mutual support, practical love and service, learning about the Christian faith, prayer, and sharing what we see God doing in our midst. They are led by trained lay-leaders from the congregation who are given on-going support and oversight by the pastor & elders. Most weeks will include elements of meal-sharing, fellowship, prayer, & Bible Study -- but occasional Movie Nights, Ladies Luncheons, Guys Outings, Beach Volleyball Festivales will be thrown in as well as healthy substitutes.
Why Community Groups?
Theological Reasons – Because of who God is & who He calls us to be
1. In revealing Himself as a Trinity, God demonstrates that He is a community in and of Himself.
There is much about the Trinity that is a mystery to us. However, the fact that God has revealed Himself to be triune makes it clear that community is intrinsic to the structure of reality. Community, thus, is not created but foundational to the universe. If God were only one, this would not be true. If He were dual, in him there would be a singularly-directed love toward one other. But because He is Triune, community is the highest form of relational existence within the universe. God always existed in a lifestyle of community and, being created in His image (Gen. 1:27), we are to accordingly mimic such a lifestyle.
“Within God’s very nature is a divine ‘rhythm’ or pattern of continuous giving and receiving not only of love, but also glory, honor, life…each in its fullness. Think. God the Father loves and delights in the Son (Mt. 3:17), Jesus receives that love and pleases the Father (Jn. 8:29). Jesus honors the Spirit (Mt. 12:31) and the Spirit glorifies the Father and the Son (Jn. 16:14). Each person in the Trinity loves, honors, and glorifies the other and receives love and honor back from the others…there is never any lack.” - John Samaan, Servants Among the Poor
2. God calls a people, rarely just a person.
a. When God created humanity, He proclaimed that it “was not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). “God does not exclusively fill the human heart. He made mankind to need more than himself. The staggering humility of God to make something that was not to be fully satisfied with the Creator and the creation is incomprehensible” (Allendar & Longman, Intimate Allies).
b. Israel was addressed and dealt with primarily as a community, not as separate individuals. The covenant and the commandments were directed to them as a people.
c. In calling the Twelve Apostles it is fairly clear that Jesus saw himself as reconstituting Israel (see Twelve Tribes of Israel). The church has replaced Israel as the community which is to testify to God’s character & salvation by the quality of its life together.
d. Finally, one ought not lose sight of the fact that a great majority of the New Testament writings were not addressed to individuals, but to entire communities (and local churches especially). They were meant to be read as communities (cf. Col. 4:16), interpreted by communities, and embodied by communities. Thus, the question, “What does this mean to us?” is meant to have priority over the question, “What does this mean to me?” This is not to suggest that we should not view ourselves as individuals or that our individuality is irrelevant. However, though we are never less than individuals, we are always more than individuals. Therefore, the latter question is most appropriately asked in the form, “What does this mean to me as a member of this community?”
Practical Reasons – Living out my Faith
“What is fellowship as defined in the New Testament? Just this: participating together in the life and truth made possible by the Holy Spirit through our union with Christ. Fellowship is sharing something in common at the deepest possible level of human relationship – our experience of God Himself” (C.J. Mahaney, Why Small Groups).
Consider these verses that contain the Greek work koinonia or fellowship (community, communion, sharing, participating):
Acts 2:42 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Philippians 2:1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,
Philemon 1:6 6 and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.
As a member or regular-attender of SCC, there is no better way to put yourself in a position to fulfill these commands than by being a part of a Community Group.
Community Groups are a place where Gifts are exercised and Care is provided. The church is sometimes compared to a football stadium where you find 22 people who desperately need a rest and thousands of people who desperately need exercise. God has given spiritual gifts to every Christian (1 Cor. 12: 1-7). He fully expects us to use them. But a couple obstacles remain. First, many are hesitant to use their gifts in a corporate context (ie. A/V team, worship team, Children’s Church, etc.) because they’ew intimidated, don’t get to see the obvious need right before their eyes, or would rather not go through the hassle of missing the occasional sermon or getting to church early. Second, even in a small church, it’s simply not feasible for every member to use his/her gifts on a Sunday Morning. Community Groups provide a natural outlet for the discovery & use of spiritual gifts. Consider that in a Community Group of 8-14 persons the needs are more obvious and the number of persons who can fulfill them are fewer. Thus, even the most casual Christian is compelled to either consider how he/she can contribute or how he/she can ‘jump ship.’
So a ‘side benefit’ of Community Groups is that it helps instruct, prepare & challenge people to use their gifts to serve the wider, corporate body when many perhaps otherwise wouldn’t.
It is through the exercise of believers’ spiritual gifts, then, that individual members can receive & provide care (1 Cor. 12: 24-26, Gal. 6:2, 1 Tim. 4:14).
Community Groups are a place to Discover Christianity. Generations X and Y (18-40) are part of a trend seen over the last five years – namely, belong then believe. Among the Baby Boomers and those born in the middle of the 20th century who grew up in cultural modernity, people first had to be convinced before they became part of any community, organization, or association. Now, however, people want to belong to something and then, in that context, work out exactly what they believe. Belonging Before Believing. Community Groups provide such an opportunity and do so environment & format that are more conducive to discovery than Sunday Morning Worship.
The key here is to get those who have already trusted Christ on the same page & mission with you. Encourage participants in your group to notify the rest of the group ahead of time if you’re bringing a young or non believer. That way, they can be ready to both share their faith and be sensitive not to gloss over difficult concepts & language that more mature Christians take for granted (eg., sin, saved, born again).