7.5 billion people walk on this Earth with us. We’re more connected than ever. In fact, the possibilities for connection with one another are endless in our ever-expanding digital world. Every time you scroll down your screen you see smiling, laughing, people together. We’re more so-called, loved, than ever. Sure, we get affirmation online in the form of likes and shares and our busy lives seem flooded with acquaintances. But doesn’t it feel like there are hundreds of people in your orbit who are more happy and more content than you? Why are we still so lonely?
We are built by God to connect with others and wired with the irresistible need for love and belonging. Right out of the gate, in Genesis chapter 2, God creates a companion for Adam. Abraham Maslow confirms this need we have in his ground-breaking 1934 paper, “A Theory of Human Motivation” where he names belonging as one of the levels of our hierarchy of need. In other words: we are not meant to be alone. What’s ironic is that while our list of social media “friends” may continue to grow, many would say these relationships lack depth.
It’s not until we find our community, that we can truly fulfill one of our deepest desires.
“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” – Timothy Keller
If it’s about being loved and known, who really knows you?
If you’ve been around the church at all, you can feel the next sentence coming: “This is where they’re going to guilt me into joining a small group.” Then the excuses come…
I’m too busy.
I can’t find anyone to watch my kids.
I can livestream church anyway.
I might not get along with those people.
The list goes on and on.
We can come up with dozens of excuses for not joining a small group community. With so many distractions, it’s easy to continue our busy, yet isolated lives. We talk ourselves out of communion with others and justify our decisions with empty reasoning.
But, what if we stopped making excuses, stepped out of our comfort zone, and allowed God to move? Could a brief “uncomfortable” feeling actually be good for our soul and draw us closer to God?
If you’re the sort of person who is still not convinced that small groups or community groups are the way to go, let’s walk through just a few quick perspectives from the Bible. Hopefully, you will walk away with a renewed perspective in what it means to gather together.
1. It’s unifying.
Our culture today gives us a million reasons to be divided. We are defensively clinging to our little echo chambers where the thoughts of those who agree with us reverberate like we’re trapped in a Greek myth–lamenting about how discouraging our culture is as we build higher and higher walls around ourselves.
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul implores them to be “united” and to let “there be no divisions” among them. (1 Corinthians 1:10). Wisely, he saw that the divisions that spring up among people lead only to distractions and destruction. Simply put, if we don’t keep Christ at the center of our lives, we’re denying the power of the cross in our lives (1 Corinthians 1:17). To put it bluntly, Christ not only died so that we could be forgiven and healed, He died so that we could be indivisibly focused on Him.
Gathering together is an important step to living out unity. It shows that we are demonstrating that we can walk the walk and talk the talk of a mature believer. So, that’s what a small group is. When we gather together, we place our eyes on Christ.
2. It’s our lifeline.
If you haven’t experienced a difficult season in your life, you’re very lucky! But unfortunately, you will. And even if you haven’t or aren’t going through one now, you still have a job to do. We are called to “bear one another’s burdens”. Paul goes on to say that this literally “fulfills the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). If you’re going through a season where you need to be encouraged and cared for, then there should be–rather, there needs to be–a group of people at your side. We all need someone to fight for us. We all need someone to be there for us. That person is Christ Himself. He fights for you, and He’s there for you. After all, He died for you. He undeniably loves you. His death is literal proof of His love for you (Romans 5:8). However, we are supposed to be imitators of Christ (Ephesians 5:1).
“…therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.” Galatians 6:10 (MSG)
When you claim this love Christ has for you, you slowly begin to see that when you carry someone else’s burdens, it’s not dissimilar to what Paul describes in Galatians 6, “whatever one sows, that will he also reap”. Where, and more importantly, who are we investing in? If we think we can opt out of caring for others, therefore “deceiving ourselves”, then we won’t be able to experience this beautiful lifeline.
3. It’s fun!
Our culture often portrays Christians as boring or dull, maybe even a little bit “square”. But does that sound like the right word for a group of people whose authority in their life (The Bible) mentions JOY about 200 times? God reminds us endlessly throughout the Bible that because we are redeemed and ransomed by Him, “everlasting JOY” is ours for the taking. Additionally, “sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Isaiah 35:10). Wouldn’t it be great to live that way, with that mindset?
Psalm 133:1 says, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.”
What’s more, we have access to not only the joy of God’s presence but to His peace as well (And who wouldn’t want more peace in their life?). We will have the peace of God with us as long as our conversations with one another stick to what Paul describes in Philippians 4 as true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise.
And since the presence of God is everywhere, the types of gatherings we can form are endless! If you think the Sunday school room or a pristine living room doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, it doesn’t have to be! Groups don’t have to fit that mold or any mold for that matter. Think simpler. Gather with your people in a park, at a bowling alley, over coffee, the basketball court, form a band, wherever you can have an edifying and encouraging conversation! It’s ok to have fun when we gather together. God says so!
4. It changes you.
Have you ever noticed that you can’t help but be influenced by the people around you? It’s good old-fashioned peer pressure. It isn’t always some moral lesson about not accepting drugs from kids in high school; we are inescapably affected by the people in which we surround ourselves most. You pick up the mannerisms of your family, you start to repeat the phrases of a co-worker, you even start to share the opinions of those around you if you hear them often enough.
Proverbs 27:17 tell us that “iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another”. We are going to be shaped by the people around us. There’s no way around it. Feel surrounded by cynicism, discouragement, and sarcasm? Soon you’ll be cynical, discouraged, and sarcastic. All the more reason to look for quality people who will speak life into you.
The good news is that we are capable of immense change. That’s the bad news too. Change can work both ways. However, walk away encouraged because God has made us “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Take a look at this promise: “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you…” (Ezekial 36:26-27).
The reality is people can be the best blessing in the world, but they can also be a source of great pain. If you feel you need a new perspective and a new way of living your life–particularly in the area of community, ask God for a new heart. But just as our God is capable of healing and renewing us, He can heal you and renew your perspective. He can remove that heart of stone.
The question is, are you willing to ask for it?
Somewhere in all our connecting and meeting with one another God shows up in the midst. And when that happens we can’t help but be changed! How do we know this? John encourages us with this beautiful truth in 1 John, “We love because He first loved us”. Allow yourself to be fully known and loved by God and you’ll find little reflections of that love in the community in which you choose to surround yourself.
Hey! Are you ready to live the life God always intended? Sign up to host a small group this fall. It’s easy and we’ll provide everything you need. Check out baysideonline.com/groups to learn more!