I recently read a blog post that criticized the value of small groups in the church. Certainly small groups are not perfect (because they are made up of people), nor are they the be all and end all for the church. They are, however, a God-created avenue to connect people to a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ, wherever they are on the journey of that relationship. But that comment stung because my life has been so influenced by small groups.
The Hole in My Heart
Deep in my heart, God gave me a burning desire to be known and loved. For the longest time I didn't realize this truth about myself. I am an introvert who is very comfortable spending lots of time alone, so you would think I would be happy living on my own, minding my own business. However, there was a place in my heart that was undeniably empty. I experienced times when I was terribly lonely. I had friends, but they were more like acquaintances than people who knew me intimately. There was a hole in my heart, and that hole could only be filled by living in community with other people. I believe God creates all of us with that same hole and same desire to be known and to be loved by someone else. It wasn't until I was well into my 30s that I realized this was why I was so passionate about small groups. My heart pursues relationships with others. There are few things that do more to calm my soul, to encourage my spirit, and to nurture my heart and mind than to be in a trusting relationship with a small group of people.
Strength for Broken Hearts
Even though I have always pursued relationships through small groups, I can't say that all those relationships ended in earth-shattering epiphanies or deep friendships. But one thing is for sure: I experience life change.
When I think back to my first small group, I don't remember what we studied. But I do remember that we experienced fun as well as struggles with real life issues. This has actually been my story with most small groups. I remember birthday parties and helping one another with do-it-yourself projects. I also remember this: I am stronger spiritually and emotionally when I am a part of a small group than when I am not.
A few years ago my wife and I needed strength from our small group. A month after my wife gave blood at a local blood drive, she received a letter in the mail stating that her blood would not be used because she had tested positive for HIV. Our hearts broke that day. We shared this devastating news with the people in our small group, a sign of deep trust. They didn't have any magic words to share, nor did they try. Instead, they immediately came to our house and merely sat with us. They didn't say a word; they didn't have to. They mourned with us. God was present with us through them.
Our doctor recommended that my wife do another blood test to see if the initial results were accurate. We waited several days for the results, and our group members waited with us. They got us out of our house, and we did things around town together. Because we shared something extremely personal with these friends and they acted on that information, we felt known and loved by them. That gave us spiritual and emotional strength to get through the next several days. The blood test results came back negative, and so did the subsequent test results. Our small group rejoiced with us. Even though this was a very difficult time in our lives, we came through it stronger because we had a community going through it with us. The fact that the results came back with good news was an added blessing.