Last week we started three new small groups (praise the Lord!), making for a total of 4 groups available for you to join. We have one on marriage, one on biblical citizenship, one on biblical manhood, and another on prayer. We are calling these Connect Groups because we want these groups to help us stay connected over summer. I couldn’t be more excited about them!
When my wife and I lived in Alliance, for years we were part of a 20 to 30 year olds small group that will forever be a special time in our lives. In fact, it’s where my wife and I met! At this group we all brought a food dish to share, played some board games or yard games, studied God’s Word and prayed. What started out as just a handful of people, soon grew to the point where it was getting awkward to meet in a home! The church ended up buying, renovating, and utilizing an old building downtown for groups like this and to use as an outreach center. I think this group grew because people longed for the genuine Christian fellowship we were experiencing!
As we seek to start up some more of our own small groups this summer, I want to remind us of the WHY. Why do small groups? Why join a small group? We don’t want to do small groups because everyone else is doing them or because we think we need something going every night of the week. We don’t want to just be busy doing Christian things. The book that our church board is planning to go through is literally called “Why Small Groups?” by C. J. Mahaney. In the very first chapter, the author answers the WHY question with 4 purposes for small groups – purposes that I can personally affirm from experience!
Purpose #1 - Sanctification
Sanctification is the progressive work of God to make us more and more free from sin and into the likeness of Christ. This is the goal of the Christian life. Although I cannot emphasize enough the need to personally respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and the personal Christian disciplines necessary for our sanctification (such as prayer and Bible study), small groups provide an excellent context for sanctification. When the saints get together, they tend to rub off on one another and shape each other, resulting in sanctification. As Proverbs states,
"As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another."
So much of our sanctification takes place through the local church gathering and doing life together and not in isolation and not just during a Sunday morning service. As Mahaney writes, “Small groups provide the encouragement, correction, and accountability that keep us from drifting. As important as it is to cultivate a personal relationship with God by practicing spiritual disciplines, we need others to help us in our pursuit of sanctification.”
I can’t tell you how much that being a part of a small group has helped me in my own spiritual walk because I’ve seen others go through things I hadn’t been through that became my examples later, or, because I was connected to others, had someone else to walk through something with me. Small groups provide accountability. Solomon wrote,
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:
(Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). That leads us to the next purpose.
Purpose #2 - Mutual Care
Paul teaches that the church body is a lot like a human body where all the different parts give care to other members and receive care from other members.
“God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that part which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same care for one another. And if one part of the body suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if a part is honored, all the parts rejoice with it.”
Through small groups (beyond the limitations of Sunday mornings) relationships begin to develop and many care needs will naturally surface through the conversations had and the times of prayer. I’ve noticed that when you are in a small group and doing life together, not only will we be praying about those needs together, there is a greater chance that we will check in our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the week or be more intentional to help meet that need when and where we can. We tend to spend more time together because we have grown in our love for another through the sharing of burdens and blessings. The oneness of Christ’s body is strengthened.
Purpose #3 - Fellowship
Fellowship, you need to know, is more than just eating or walking or playing frisbee golf together. It is more than just hanging out or some other social activity. Genuine fellowship revolves around the Word of God and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in our lives as we walk the faith journey together. Fellowship, as we discovered in Acts 2, comes from the Greek word “koinonia” and means to “participate together”.
When you get involved in a small group, your main desire should be fellowship – centered around the things of God. As each member learns and shares about their relationship with God and how God is revealing Himself to them, there is mutual encouragement and refreshed passion to follow Christ together! This creates momentum in our spiritual lives and the life of the Church.
Purpose #4 - Ministry of the Holy Spirit
Small groups also create more opportunities for members to exercise their spiritual gifts. Every Christian has at least one spiritual gift and we are all called to prayerfully discover and cultivate those gifts. We are not made to be consumers, but producers! And where’s the best place to discover and use your gift? The place it was designed to operate – within the church body, doing life in connection with other members of Christ. You may not know what your spiritual gift is but as you interact with the church body, they will likely recognize it in you! Mahaney writes, “God has given spiritual gifts to every Christian (1 Cor. 12:1-7). He expects us to use them. But in a church of any size at all, it’s simply not feasible for every member to use these gifts on Sunday morning. They can in a small group, though. In this smaller and more personal context, each one can serve according to the gifting of the Holy Spirit.”
As we exercise our gifts, an environment for true Christian fellowship is fostered. When you meet with your connect group this week, expect the Spirit of God to be powerfully present and to participate in it. Expect God to work!
Staying connected this summer,
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