Filling the Hole in My Heart

Filling the Hole in My Heart

How small groups have changed me from the inside out

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.

Inspiration from Surprising Places

I think the greatest impact my small groups have had on me is not what happened during meetings, but what happened between meetings. Not only do the people in my small groups give me strength, they give me inspiration. Craig is a member of our current small group, and he often shares about his work on cars. Auto repair is a hobby for him, and there aren't many things he doesn't know how to do when fixing a car. Listening to him share about his latest auto repair project inspired me to work on my own car. I heard Craig talk and I thought, If he can do it, I can do it. Since Craig has been in my small group, I have replaced my car's thermostat, serpentine belt, door handle, and brake pads. A member of my small group inspired me to try something new and discover abilities I never knew I had.

From Bible Knowledge to Application

I've found that meeting with my small group isn't just enjoyable, I need it—especially when it comes to spiritual growth. I've used many different types of Bible reading plans over the years, and I've learned a lot through my individual quiet time with God. But when it comes to practicing God's Word, I need the help and accountability of the people in my small group. And that support has made the biggest impact on my life. Bible knowledge can happen anywhere, but real-life Bible application can only happen in the context of relationships. After all, it's easy to understand that we should love one another, but it's something else to actually live that out.

I can remember many times when the facilitator would begin by referring to our application from the previous meeting by asking, "How did you do with your assignment this week?" And there are some meetings that I don't have a response because I haven't applied it during the week. That weekly accountability has helped me move forward and follow through with applying the lesson.

Navigating an Uncertain World

I don't know what small groups will hold for me in the future, but I can't see my future without them. The small groups I've been part of have undergirded me with a biblical foundation that helps me navigate an uncertain world. I have benefited from the guidance, blessing, and growth that come from living life in the community of other followers of Christ. I can't imagine living my life any other way.

—Mark Ingmire is the Small Groups and Adult Education Pastor at Savannah Christian Church in Savannah, Georgia; copyright 2013 by Christianity Today.

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