I’ve lived and served in small group life for nearly 5 years, on staff at Grace Community Church.
Small groups have become my heartbeat. Connecting people in biblical, authentic community has become the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning, and what keeps me up late at night.
Over the past 5 years, I’ve seen lots of folks thrive in small groups…and many die on the vine. I’ve noticed that there are certain things that small groups can never be…and certain things that at which small groups excel.
Those qualities that a small group does well are summed in 1 Thessalonians 5:14:
And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.
5 Things that Small Groups Do Well
Small groups help people “belong.” This is absolutely essential in our walks with Christ. That we have brothers and sisters to whom we belong, and are connected with at a deep level. This is the foundation for the rest of the verse, and the foundation for living life in community.
2. “Warn those who are idle”
We’re not talking about an “idol.” The word here is “idle.” Speak truth and hope into the lives of people who are stuck. Who forget that living life as Jesus follower is one of action. One of serving and loving and giving and going. Some of us need to quit planning, and start doing.
3. “Encourage the timid”
Fear is a reality for us in many different seasons of life. It grips our hearts and keeps us in bondage. Which is why we need other people. We need others to encourage us when we need to take that step of faith. We need to know that others have our back when we might fail.
4. “Help the weak”
Oh, how often I’ve needed this. And how incredible a bond you form with someone when they help you in need. When small groups rally around people in their group, or others in their community, there’s a deeper level of relationship than is found in most other areas of life. Helping the weak is something that healthy groups do well, especially when we realize that we can use our pain to help others.
5. “Be patient with everyone”
We’re all at different points in our spiritual journeys. And at various points, each of us can be a difficult person. The way we treat each other reveals our theology. Whether we’re walking through a mess ourselves, helping others deal with a mess, or trying to figure out what God’s got next for us and we’re just fearful or resistant, we need others to be patient with us…and we need to learn to be patient with others. Just like God’s patient with us. And it’s impossible to practice patience on your own. Being that we’re all broken sinners…small groups give us a great chance to exercise patience with one another.
Notice one key component of all of these: they’re active. None of these can be accomplished while you’re passive. None can be accomplished if you just look at group life as a sponge. If you expect that following Jesus is about sitting around.
If you go expecting to sit and soak, you’ll dry up. If you go expecting to give deeply of yourself…expect to be filled.
Have you seen any of these fleshed out in group life? What else do small groups do well?
When I got married, I trembled with fear. Like a shaky leaf that crunches when you step on it, I was weak and breakable and vulnerable.
I think this is common.
At least, that’s what I tell myself. It makes me feel better about my trepidation.
My fear, though, wasn’t one of questioning my decision to get married. It wasn’t founded in questioning my bride-to-be. It wasn’t even in questioning the timing.
My “fear” found its way into my pocket because the step I was making was altering the trajectory of my life.
Ever had a decision like that?
Maybe it was in deciding which college to go to. Or a change in jobs. Or walking away from a relationship that you’ve treasured, but that was damaging to you personally. Maybe you felt that flutter in your gut when you bought a car. Or a house.
Maybe it was when you found out you were pregnant, and quickly realized you had no idea what it took to be a parent.
Fear is a natural emotion.
Let me quote a Scripture for you that you may have heard before:
for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. – 2 Timothy 1:7
Reading this verse at face-value, you’re left thinking that any ounce of fear shows you to be anti-God. That it’s not something that is consistent with being called a child of the King. That if you experience fear, you show yourself weak and faithless and un-usable.
Let me throw a wrench in that thought process before you tread down that road much further.
The verse here says that God didn’t give us a “spirit” of fear. In other words, we aren’t dominated by fear. We’re not paralyzed by fear. And we don’t let fear hold us back. It won’t be our master. Instead, our spirit, our heart, is driven by power and love and self-control, rooted in an unchanging, unshakeable, courageous God who seeks after our heart even in the midst of the most difficult times in life.
The presence of fear doesn’t show you to be anti-God. It shows you to be human. Emotions aren’t inherently evil. How you respond to your emotions, though, reveals your heart.
And if your heart is driven by fear, you’ll never do anything that matters. On the precipice of doing significant work, fear will be present, trying desperately to course its way through your body.
Yielding to the Fear
In those moments, you can yield to the fear.
- “I can’t do that. I’ll fail.”
- “I have no idea what I’m doing.”
- “I don’t have that skill set.”
- “I’m not worthy of that.”
- “I could never sustain that.”
Yield to that fear, step back off the precipice, and return to life as normal.
Or press through it, reminding yourself of who God has created you to be, and take the plunge. Remind yourself that God has given you a spirit of power and love and self-control. “Fear” doesn’t mean you shouldn’t move forward. “Fear” may mean it’s time to trust God to do what He said He’d do.
Pressing through fear
Take a step of faith.
- Give up ______.
- Start a new ministry.
- Make that leadership decision.
- Begin serving your community.
- Have a difficult, awkward conversation.
Fear didn’t keep me from making the decision to marry my wife. It lit a fire in my heart to do what I knew God was calling me to.
Fear is normal. It means you’re human.
Don’t let it hold you from what God wants you to do. Satan would love that.
Instead, press through with resolve.
I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, or I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. – Isaiah 41:9-10
What’s the biggest decision you’ve ever had to make? Did you have any hint of fear?
* image credit: Creative Commons user Jones DePalma
Mark spoke on fear.
In dealing with fear, the first question to ask is this:
What are you afraid of?
Heights? Widths? Mice? Bugs? Snakes? Spiders? Clowns?
Conflict? Failure? Criticism? Embarrassment?
Fear in the mind causes stress in the body.
It’s invariable that leaders have fear. Your body starts to manifest the fear. Maybe that’s a nervous eye twitch. Maybe that’s canker sores.
Then you start eating badly or drinking too much.
You start getting sinus problems and headaches. Some of you just start reading a lot of books on the rapture, wanting this life to just be over.
Mark was afraid when he started Mars Hill: what if this doesn’t work?
Then people came, and his fear was: what if they stay?
Luke 12:25 says, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”
Fear is not always a sin, but it is always an opportunity
In dealing with fear, the second question to ask is this:
Who are you afraid of?
This is one of the most important question a leader can ask. Because someone other than God is taking the place that only God should have in our lives. We feel like we need someone to feed us, praise us, and not oppose us…we begin to need them for life. We place people in positions of fear, then we worship them as functional gods.
When you fear someone, you cannot love them. Because to love someone is to give to them, but to fear them is to take from them.
The key of all idolatry is that we trade the creator God for created things…and other people are the likely candidates for this.
Proverbs 29:25 shows us that the fear of man is a trap. It may be that you’re afraid of someone, or that you’re in awe of a person, giving them too much influence on your spiritual, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
The fear of man is fearing others instead of God. At a young age, it’s called peer pressure. As adults, it’s called co-dependency or people pleasing.
Do you have a fear of man problem?
- Whose opinion matters way too much to you?
- Is your appetite for praise too healthy?
- Are you overly devastated by criticism? Criticism may hurt…but it shouldn’t devastate. Criticism is constant, instant, permanent, and global. (Rick Warren)
- Are you committed to things and people that God did not call you to? Don’t follow other people’s calling on your life…follow God’s.
What is fear?
1. Fear is vision without hope.
Fear means that we see vision in the worst possible scenario, and we freak out. Fear sees the future, and says that it’s going to be painful and so it drives you to stress and fear.
2. Fear isn’t always rational, but it is always powerful.
3. Fear is about not getting what we want
…or getting what we want and losing it…or getting what we don’t want.
4. Fear preaches a false Gospel.
It says, “There is a potential Hell awaiting you, and you could have an alternative heaven on earth, so you need a functional savior.” It gives us a false hell, a false heaven, and a false savior. It’s a savior that we, through fear, have created in our imagination.
5. Fear turns us all into false prophets.
Ever been afraid of a future event, then when you got there, it wasn’t just like you thought it would be?
What is the solution to fear?
The Bible says, “Fear not.” Which is the most frequently listed commandment in the whole book.
But the Bible says that it’s not just about facing your fears…it’s about being with God.
The Bible on Fear
- Adam, our first father, as we see in Genesis 3, is afraid after he sins. He’s hiding, and God comes to him and answers his fear by being present with Adam. He pursues Adam in the midst of his fear.
- Abraham, in Genesis 15:1, is told to fear not because God is his shield.
- Isaac, in Genesis 26:24, is told to fear not because God is with him. He’s told to remember he’s not alone.
- Genesis 28:15: “I am with you.”
- Exodus 33:14, Moses is told that God’s presence will go with him. “how can I lead these people? I don’t know where we’re going, but I’ve got to lead them!” God’s answer isn’t “here’s a map,” but it’s “here I am.”
- Elijah, on the battlefield, in 2 Kings 1:15, “Fear not!” (on the brink of war)
- David: Psalm 23 says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear, because God is with me.” Things may not be ok, but I’m ok because God is with me.
- Isaiah 41:14: “Do not fear, you worm of Jacob.” Can you think of anything more defenseless than a worm? Little girls pick them up and mock them. “Little Israel, fear not, for I myself will help you.” Though the fears are real, the lack of resources is real…fear not, I bring resources.
- Jeremiah 1:8 – fear not, for I am with you.” Jeremiah has lots to be afraid of. He smote sad that indie rockers. He’s the “weeping prophet.” “Why did I get out of my mother’s womb? Cursed is the man who brought my mother the news that I was going to be a boy.” He couldn’t’ even get married. He was depressed, by himself, an indie rocker poet.
- Daniel 10:12: fear not, Daniel, for I have come.”
- Haggai 2:4-5: be strong, be strong, be strong.” Be strong because God is with him.
- What did God tell Mary through the angel? Fear not, teenage girl. God will be with you.
- Matthew 28:20 – “I will be with you.”
You know what we have to fear more than anything? DEATH.
But the worst thing that can happen to you is that you die and go to be with Jesus. We need to reset our worst-case scenario. The worst-case scenario is that you go to be with Jesus sooner rather than later…that’s not so bad!
When times are at the hardest, and your grief goes the deepest, remember, “Fear not, God is with you.”
Everything may not be ok, but if God is with you, you’re ok.
George Washington was a courageous man.
I knew this to be true…you can’t go through the United States public school system without studying about our country’s first President. But I’ve recently been reminded of his heroism while reading 1776 by George McCullough.
In September of 1775, Boston was under siege by British troops. Washington was the commander of the American military forces (which were a mishmash of untrained and largely unorganized farmers and other Yankees), and he was ready to make a bold move to recapture Boston, ending the siege. However, there were two problems.
1. The British forces were powerful and abundant.
2. An attack on Boston, to remove the siege, could mean the destruction of the city.
But Washington wasn’t one to sit around and wait for something to happen. So he began petitioning Congress to move troops, and begin attacking the British at Boston, because he knew how strategic and valuable the city would continue to be for the future success of the Revolutionary War.
In a letter to the governor of Rhode Island, Washington said this:
No danger is to be considered when put in competition with the magnitude of the cause.
Washington was facing lots of dangers. Loss of significant lives. Loss of his power and authority. Loss of his reputation. Loss of the city of Boston. Loss of supplies. Loss of time. Loss of effort. Loss of the colonies to the British. But he was willing to not consider those dangers when he compared them to the magnitude of the cause…winning independence.
We could learn something from this, even today. Because far too often, when we count the cost, we show by our actions that we believe the task is too dangerous for us. We show fear when we don’t
- Share our faith
- Press in to know our own heart
- Have a tough conversation with a friend
- Take on that new project
- Stop and build a relationship with someone new
- Press in to know the heart of our children
- Give financially until it hurts
- Serve expecting nothing back
- Do what God’s clearly calling us to do
- Step out of our comfort zone
When we put the above in competition with the magnitude of the cause…they pale in comparison. They are still dangerous…highly dangerous. You could get burned, misunderstood, shamed, abandoned, discouraged, and broke. But, like Washington said, these dangers aren’t to be considered when we compare them with the magnitude of the cause. What is the cause that has such magnitude?
- The health of our family.
- The health of our heart. (living a life worthy of our call, Ephesians 4:1-2)
- Serving our King faithfully.
There’s nothing else greater.
For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. – 1 Timothy 1:7
Have you ever felt yourself crippled by fear?
What was it that got you going again?
I was brought up to see the Lord’s Supper as a solemn time. Incredibly solemn.
And painfully introspective.
Were you brought up in this tradition?
I almost came to dread taking the Lord’s Supper (communion). Because I knew that, for the following 10-15 minutes, somebody was going to be reminding me, “You need to get your heart right with God.” And then they were going to read something terrifying like this
So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. (1 Corinthians 11:27-31, emphasis mine…and whoever was reading the text for that Sunday morning we took communion)
I was going to have to beat myself up, cry my heart out to God for sins that I’d committed, and make sure there wasn’t anything that I had done (or not done) that was even remotely sinful. I definitely didn’t want to “eat and drink judgment” on myself. Who wants to do that?
I wonder if “fear” is what Jesus intended when he encouraged his disciples to eat the bread and drink the cup? (Luke 22:19-20) Somehow, I doubt it.
At first glance, though, the above text (1 Corinthians 11:27-30) seems to be a terror-inducing statement. If you’re not careful, and if your heart’s not in the right place, you may die when you take communion. Some in the early church surely did.
But at second glance, this text isn’t encouraging morbid introspection. It’s speaking to an entirely different matter that was going on.
What was happening in the Corinthian church was that some people were arriving for communion, and making a meal out of the bread and wine. They would eat the bread (and the rest of the meal) before those who were hungry arrived. Not only would they top off all of the wine, but they would drink so much that they would get drunk…right there in the middle of the church gathering! (verses 20-21) And I don’t know about your church, but at mine, you’d have to eat a lot of wafers to make a meal out of that bread.
What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. When you come together to eat, wait for one another – if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home. (1 Corinthians 11:22; 33)
So drinking the cup and eating the bread in an “unworthy” manner has much less to do with fear, and much more to do with selfishness. Paul was condemning the Corinthians because they neglected the communal aspect of the Lord’s Supper,
- …eating and drinking before others arrived.
- …eating and drinking so much that others didn’t have any.
- …drinking so much they became drunk.
- …humiliating those who had nothing.
So the next time your church administers the Lord’s Supper, don’t sweat it so much, like I used to. And if you’re a pastor, try not to strike panic in the hearts of your people. Let it be a time of celebration and worship, of remembering what Christ has done for you (both individually and corporately).
And don’t make a meal out of the stale wafers.