I admit 2015 shook me. It’s difficult not to notice the global unrest. Sure, I’ve experienced times of unrest—even national unrest—in my lifetime. But I’ve never had so much trouble reading and watching the news.
In 2015 we witnessed the race-motivated massacre at the AME Emanuel Church in Charleston, one of the 330 mass shootings last year in America—nearly one for each day of the year. As the racial tension bubbling under the surface for so long finally boiled over, many Americans experienced confusion, anger, and shame. We also mourned the Paris attacks, the countless Christians around the world being killed for their faith, the victims of the earthquake in Nepal, and the huge number of refugees.
Even closer to home for me, Chicago police are under investigation after shooting Laquan McDonald, as well as several other questionable shootings. In my hometown of Aurora, Illinois, there were over 130 shootings and 9 murders in 2015. On top of that, two high school students died in a car accident on their way to a school basketball game, and a father was killed in a car crash when two young adults decided to race their cars down a busy, main road.
Even those who’ve stayed away from the news have found it hard to steer clear of the Making a Murderer phenomenon in the last month. The popular Netflix documentary is bringing to light some of the flaws of our justice system.
With all this unrest, my heart aches. Many of my small group’s discussions have centered on these events, and more than a few nights have ended with the difficult question: God, what should we do? And maybe more honest: Is it really possible for us to make a difference in light of all this hurt?
Perhaps the worst part of all this turmoil is the fact that people are reacting out of fear. We discuss who should watch for and remove “suspicious people” on Sunday mornings. We take sides, dig in their heels, and refuse to listen to anyone who may disagree. We dismiss major national and global events as “not our problem.” We huddle together with people who look, think, and act like us to feel safe.
These reactions, though, run contrary to whom God has made us to be: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7 NLT). As we look back on the rich history of Christianity, our brothers and sisters teach us that we simply can’t give into fear. We must continue to place our hope in God and move forward as the Spirit leads. God’s mission is much too large, much too grand, to be stopped by political unrest, murders, or natural disasters. And while our individual roles in the mission may feel small, they matter.
When we choose to love our neighbors in spite of local violence, we choose hope. When we choose to listen to someone with a different story than ours, we choose to see the imago dei. When we choose to forgive those who commit horrific crimes, we choose to extend grace. When we choose hope despite darkness all around us, we choose Christ.
This is the message of Beautiful Orthodoxy. Rather than glossing over or ignoring the real tension, pain, and evil in the world, we see it and call it out. At the same time, rather than react out of fear, we choose to act with countercultural love, grace, and hope. As we stand on that fearless love, we stamp out the darkness, one footprint at a time.
How does crisis—global, national, or local—affect your group members? How do they respond to the darkness of the news, the global refugee crisis, the needs of your community, or the conflict within your own group? I believe the answers to these questions reflect discipleship opportunities. As a small-group leader, you can help your group members process and mourn the tragedies and crises, and you can point them toward a life of power, love, and self-discipline. The truth is, we’ll experience more difficult events that will shake us, and we must learn to process these events and turn our eyes to our hope in God. You can help your group members learn this important skill.
I encourage you to follow the Spirit’s promptings as you lead your group. What conflicts, tragedies, and crises do they need to process? Where do they need to be pushed to see an event as definitely “their problem”? Where do they need to be stretched out of their comfort zone? What resources could you look at together? Consider how you might take advantage of difficult events and turn them into opportunities for discipleship and growth. As you do, may you experience God’s presence in new and profound ways both individually and as a group.
—Amy Jackson is managing editor of SmallGroups.com.