I hated math in grade school. It started all the way back in second grade, and didn't get any better as I grew older. In eighth grade, Mrs. Li was my math teacher. She probably was really good at math; her problem was she knew very little English. The class was moving at a snail's pace through the textbook and learning very little.
A month into the school year, two of my friends, Dale and Paul, went to Mrs. Li and suggested they do an independent study through the math book. She agreed, and with her permission, they asked me to join them. Each day we worked through the textbook by ourselves. If we came across something we didn't understand, we tried to work it out ourselves, and if we really had trouble, we asked Mrs. Li for help. When one of us got stuck on a concept, the others stopped to help him figure it out. None of us moved on until all three of us got it.
When we finished one textbook, Mrs. Li got another for us and let us advance. At the end of the year, Dale, Paul, and I had worked through three and a half textbooks! The rest of the class had not even finished the first book.
Dale and Paul included me in their community with a purpose. I believe this was my first small group experience! Together we spurred each other on and, in the process, we connected with one another. We challenged one another and were patient with each other as we moved together to become something better than we were before.
That small group changed my life! The following year, I went to a college-prep high school and got all A's in math classes. I even tutored other kids in algebra my freshmen year. I went on to get my Bachelor's degree in finance and work in that field. God used community to transform me into something I could never have become on my own. That's the way He works.
The heartbeat of the Christian life is relationships: communion with God and community with others (Matthew 22:37-40). It is in authentic community that people find real hope in the midst of pain, loss, loneliness, depression, and sin in our lives. God gave us the gift of community to meet our needs. The real need of our culture is to meaningfully connect with a few other people. When we do, we are able to change, to grow, and to heal.
It is important to understand that we do not and cannot create authentic community. It already exists in Christ! He has made it possible for us to be reconnected to God, and to each other.
Community exists for Christians, but we must enter into it. That is why Jesus prayed for our unity in John 17, "that they may be one as we are one" (v. 11). Jesus' prayer was for us to be connected with the same oneness that existed in God before the foundations of the world were set in place!
Sin has separated us from communion with God (Genesis 3:8) and from oneness with one another. It causes us to look at one another differently with judgment rather than grace, with shame rather than transparency (Genesis 3:7).
Jesus broke the cycle of sin, and this fact alone allows us to once again enter into healing communion with God and healing community with one another. When we experience this community, it changes our world. For that to happen, the leader must lead the way. It doesn't happen just by convening a weekly meeting, but by getting together with group members between meetings for breakfasts or lunches, by personal visits, telephone calls, encouragement notes, or, at the very least, email, and just "hanging out" together.
One day an apprentice stopped in my office to tell me how great things were going in the group. The fascinating thing is that he did not say a word about how great their Bible study times were or how great their leader was. He told me with lots of excitement about a fishing trip the group just returned from. He shared how the group was growing and how friendships were being built. This group was doing an excellent job of 24-7 ministry to one another.
Community Is the Context
Now a word of warning. There is danger small groups face as they seek to build healing community: developing the notion that the group exists to grow strong, intimate relationships. The commission given to the church is to "make disciples." That is the goal of every small group as well. Community, then, is only the context or the environment in which disciples are made.
Remember high school biology? We were taught about growing organisms in little round vessels called petri dishes. In the bottom of these dishes was a gooey substance that provided the environment and nutrients for growth to occur. Small groups are like petri dishes. They should contain the culture or community in which disciples grow.
Spiritual healing and transformation include at least five essential components:
- Agent: The Holy Spirit. Healing and spiritual transformation are supernatural processes. (1 Peter 1:2; Galatians 5:22-25).
- Goal: Christlikeness. The goal is not just behavior modification (stop one set of practices to adopt another). We are transformed into new creatures in Christ, a complete change in our values. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
- Means: The renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).
- Context: Authentic Community. Real healing and transformation happen in the midst of authentic Christian community where the "one another" passages of the New Testament are lived out.
- Time Frame: Lifetime Process. Healing and transformation take a lifetime, but we must start where we are. (Philippians 3:12-15)
Life change happens naturally in the proper environment: small groups where people live together in authentic, transformational, healing community community with a purpose!
Article adapted from Leading from the Heart: A Group Leader's Guide to Passionate Ministry by Michael C. Mack (Cell Group Resources). It is available from TOUCH Online at http://www.touchusa.org/.