Living the “One Anothers”
There is a common question I receive about the need for community – “Why is being in a community group a requirement of membership when the scriptures don’t call believers to be in a community group?” There are several variations of this question or declarative statements, depending on the person. Here’s my answer in 300 words or less.
You’re right. The scriptures never call people to be in a community group, never use the word membership, or the word Trinity for that matter, but these words clarify what the scriptures teach regarding God, shepherding, or a choice in shepherding. Most people won’t argue that the scriptures teach community – in the Godhead, marriage, true friendship, or the New Testament Church. The New Testament Church looks like lives overlapping and believers dynamically living out life together (see all the one another’s of scripture http://www.loveoneanotherbook.com/).
There are imperatives for all believers to submit to elders (the leaders and shepherds of their local church) or said another way, to be under their care and correction. It’s crazy to think the Elders have to give an account to Jesus for me and others at our local church (Heb. 13:17). Membership is the word we use to communicate that we are coming under the care, correction, shepherding, and leadership of Elders. Think about dismemberment insurance, or insurance that covers when a limb is cut off from your body. Membership is you and your gifts joining a local body – no longer being cutoff from the body.
Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you. – Hebrews 13:17
Ok, so now the group part. You have a handful of men as elders who have to give an account for 4000. Sounds crazy! God has made provision for this issue in his word, through providing a structured shepherding model (see Exodus 18). Community groups have become the MECHANISM or VEHICLE through which the Elders shepherd the flock at Watermark. Everyone is in a clear, defined (closed group), accountable relationship with others, with a clear line to the shepherds. For Watermark, this looks like a group, designated leader, community director, and elders. The Elders DON’T have the option to not shepherd, but they DO have the freedom to shepherd through other members indwelt by the Counselor (Holy Spirit) who gifts every believer (1 Cor. 12:7). Questions about membership? We’d love to hear from you!
As a young believer, I didn’t quite understand the importance of community or its role in my life. I went to youth groups and Bible Studies but thought that putting on the best facade was the game to play. I spent my high school and early college years striving to be lovable and likable. It seemed that the only way to find a husband was to be shiny enough to catch his eye. Sadly, I wasted much of my time playing a game I wasn’t made to play. Slowly, through mentors and my best bud, Beth Moore, I started to see that the pretty face every other girl seemed to wear had the same scars and blemishes as mine on the other side.
Later on in college, I was blessed enough to have girlfriends who weren’t afraid to open up their hearts and share their junk. I can’t express how freeing it was for me to hear their stories. Those women have a very special place in my heart. They were brave enough to expose their brokenness so that I too may be set free from my chains (2 Corinthians 3:17).
As freeing as it was to realize I wasn’t alone, I now needed to understand this new journey I was embarking upon. I wanted to do it on my own. Clean up my mess and wow the crowd. However, this process has proven to be more of a life-long journey that I cannot sustain on my own.
So, what about community? Well, I have realized that the only way I will continue to taste and partake in this abundant life we have in Christ, is to slay my pride and be painfully open and honest about where I am (Luke 9:23). I thought it would be easy but God recently revealed that I hide more than realized. God seems to know when I hide the “little things”. As much as I desire to lead women to our King, I need to kneel bare before Him first.
As a leader, do you want to inspire and encourage the members of your community towards our King? Do you long for them to no longer be captives (Galatians 5:1)? Then, be broken. Stop playing the part and hiding. Slay your pride and let your soul be naked before your community and our God. I am excited to see how God moves…
Our group is about to celebrate with a birthday cake with two candles on it… A few years ago, my wife and I, along with our closest friends, wanted to start a community group where we all lived within a mile of each other. Needless to say, almost daily I unexpectedly run into someone in our community group or someone’s kid, as our lives naturally intersect. There are a couple of individuals in our group that have exponentially grown in the last 2 years that look so different than when we began. Despite deep friendships, the fun we have together, and our increasing commitment to Jesus, we consistently clean up relational messes with each other.
I think the reality has set in that we are all going to be sinners until we die (1 John 1:8-10). I know that sounds like a trite statement, but we sometimes think the grass is greener with some other person or some other group. The reality is that the healthiest group will be full of sinners that intentionally or unintentionally wound or hurt others in the group. It’s just a reality on this side of the resurrection. The question is, will you be a people group marked by Colossians 3:13, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
Think about the implications. Bear with each other: that’s the secret sauce. You WILL rub and have friction with anyone you do life with, the question is, are you in it for the long haul with them? Bear with each other is a command, and we reflect His image when we model his Lordship with his command.
You don’t have to be around Watermark very long before you hear some of the incredible stories of life change that occur in the context of community! These stories are beautiful pictures of the very Word of God being lived out day-to-day. Hebrews 3:13 tells us, “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” And James 5:16, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” What great promises these are! But this verse also brings a question to my mind…how often am I the person doing the praying instead of the one asking for prayer?
I have to admit that more often than not when I read James 5:16, I read it in context of how it will benefit me. But then again, healing was one of the reasons I joined a community group in the first place. I mean, how often do you hear someone say they want to join a community group in order to serve others and pray for them so they will experience life change? Probably not very often. But what if we made community more about serving one another instead of expecting to be served? Matthew 20:28 tells us that “even as the Son of Man came to serve and not to be served, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” It makes me wonder, what would happen if I continually approached community with a servant’s heart?
Jerry Bridges writes in his book, Pursuit of Holiness, that one of the basic reasons Christians continually feel defeated in the daily battle with sin is because of our attitude toward sin. He says, “Our first problem is that our attitude toward sin is more self-centered than God-centered. We are more concerned about our own ‘victory’ over sin than we are about the fact that our sins grieve the heart of God.” I believe the same concept can be applied to community. Whenever I feel frustrated or disheartened about community, it’s most likely because I don’t feel like the group is meeting my needs and expectations. I’m more concerned about having my own “victories” than I am about meeting the needs of those in my group. So what would community be like if our goal wasn’t about a group of people making us feel better, but rather it was about following Christ better? What if my attitude toward community became others-focused instead of self-focused?
I’d venture to say that the answer to all those questions is that instead of just hearing about those incredible stories of life-change, I would be blessed to see and experience them first-hand!
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 4:8-11
It’s been several months since my father passed away. In reflecting on my father’s life, with the men in my community group, I saw that anger and loneliness drove his actions, decisions, and life.
The result was destruction: spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
Knowing how important it is to have community – Christian brothers and sisters sharpening one another in truth (Proverbs 27:17) – I wish I could have gone back in time to be a friend to my dad. To remind him that his pain and hurt was real, and not to be ignored, but instead to be presented to the One who could heal.
To know that his father’s poor example in stewardship of marriage and the responsibility of being a parent, did not have to define who my father was or could be. That even in his turn as a husband and father, when he messed up and failed, it did not mean he was just like his father… nothing better.
I would have encouraged him to share his pain, to expose the sin of anger, and deal directly with it by leaning on Christ. Maybe then he would have seen the value of a loving relationship with a Christian brother and would not have settled to live a life of isolation.
A life of isolation brings hell. Hell brings perversion, corruption, destruction and death – a place and life where man, left to his own vices, becomes creative in dismissing any responsibility for his sins and begins to trade truth for a lie.
But Jesus comes to give life in the midst of community (John 10:10). For when we bear one another’s burdens, we are being Christ to each other (Galatians 6:1-3), and a world without this is hell.
The High Places –Part 2:
If you didn’t read the blog entry from last week, you might want to do that first, since this is part 2 of my and “Much Afraid’s” journey to the High Places.
I like to call it my journey to the High Places—because I love the idea of taking high ground like Much Afraid did with her Shepherd. My journey with the Good Shepherd has been filled with some VERY LOW valley’s where, in hindsight, my Shepherd must have carried me, some rocky places where my feet slipped and my footing was unsure, and also fields of green pasture where you can run free, fast and barefoot! It has been a LONG journey on the road to healing and recovering for me and from me. J In the most recent section, the Lord revealed to me some sin in my life that I had confessed, was known, and I even often referred to it, but what I didn’t realize was how much I was minimizing it. So—thanks to the Holiness book and the Holy Spirit–My first step was to confess, out loud—“I’ve been minimizing these sins.” Yuck. Sharing with others was my first step, followed by taking steps of obedience to deal with it. It looked differently for the different areas He revealed.
So you all may read this and think this is petty, but stick with me here…I think THAT IS part of the point. One of my pretty big sin issues in the last 3-4 years has been my “critical spirit”. The truth is that I used to be satisfied with a head full of critical thoughts, a few slips in tone (that got the message across what I really wanted to communicate, without making it look like I was being critical) and a handful of places where I had to really clean up a mess. I thought that was sufficient and frankly was pleased with it. Then–My Good Shepherd began to show me something totally unexpected…
Let me summarize it this way. As I took a few, very “difficult –to-do” steps to trust and obey the Good Shepherd’s instruction, something started shifting in my heart. I began to desire deeper holiness –dare I say – true holiness in the inmost part. Not just “observed” holiness. Which for me meant– I really wanted to love and respect others (who I disagreed with, or were just bugging me for one reason or another) and all of the sudden I had a genuine desire to not disparage them –EVEN IN MY HEART. It feels like true repentance and grieving over my sin and its impact! As my counselor so aptly said, when I shared about a small victory of refraining from making a funny comment at someone’s expense who treated me poorly, “You saw her as made in the image of God– with dignity– no matter how she treated you.” Ahhh. Yes. And it felt good and right…yes, and holy. Before, it was all I could do just to “cage my tongue” –I never dreamed that the Lord would change my heart to genuinely want to honor them.
Now for the crazy part! As I have taken these little steps of obedience—little Much Afraid (me) is getting to some higher ground where the air IS clearer. What do I mean by that? As I have obeyed and repented the things in my heart that no one else can see– I feel like I am sensing the Lord’s direction more and hearing Him more clearly. I never thought of “inward purity and holiness” as the way to the High Places. There is in fact a reason why the Good Shepherd gives us the instruction He does, and I am finding that the more I repent in my heart and obey–the more I sense His presence and hear His voice, and His Word takes deeper root in my heart…consequently, I have a more joyful walk with Him. Holiness is truly where the air is clear and is fast becoming my happy pill. The Good Shepherd’s presence truly is the greatest place to be, though the journey is difficult at times. It is worth it—and it is for true freedom, that He calls us there.
The High Places – Part 1:
Do you know the kind of day I am referring to when I say—sky is beautiful blue, not a cloud in sight, the air is clear and fresh and the perfect temperature (for me that is 68, also the temperature I keep my house). It’s so heavenly that it gives you a boost of energy, life and maybe a little extra serotonin –it’s like a happy pill! Well I LOVE those days! Sometimes I think maybe I have that disorder called “SAD”. That just means that the weather makes me grumpy if it’s 85% humidity or still 102 degrees at 7:00 pm.
Recently, I have been re-reading one of my all-time favorite books– Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. If you are around me very much these days, you are likely tired of hearing about the main character “Much Afraid” – she’s a sheep. The truth is that Much Afraid and I have MUCH in common on so many levels. She is in search of the ‘heavenly place’ where the air is crisp, clear and she is free from all the things that entangle her in everyday life. Specifically, Much Afraid has been wounded emotionally as a result of her physical wounds. She grew up with a distorted mouth and a leg that keeps her from walking like all the other sheep. These things led to emotional torment and slavery by her family and friends down in the “Valley of Humiliation” where she has lived all of her life.
Like many of us, Much Afraid knows the Good Shepherd. She sees Him regularly as He makes His way through the village calling out to all who would chose to follow Him to the High Places. She has seen the results of those who choose to follow the Shepherd– they come back from the long hard journey—FREE, from those things that entangled them. Finally fed up with her life, and ready to do whatever it took, Much Afraid decided to embark on this journey in search of freedom. The Shepherd would ask her to do some scary and difficult things, it would mean trusting and following him at all cost. It is the only way to the “high places”.
At the same time I am journeying with Much Afraid up to the “High Places”, I have also been pondering other things the Lord has been stirring in my heart through a different book– Holiness by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. I read it with some friends. This is a side note: studying a book together is a GREAT way to bond your community, learn, process, and grow together. When you start reading something and God begins to rock your world, there is great joy in sharing the lessons He is teaching you and learning from others.
SO…on the journey through this book with my friends, the Lord began stirring my heart with a pure and intentional desire for greater holiness in my life. He brought needed conviction in specific areas of sin that I had been minimizing. And, like Much Afraid, The Lord began asking me to follow Him and take some steps that were difficult (not in the same way that some other steps in my life have been difficult) but difficult never-the-less. He and I were on our way to the High Places… I just didn’t know it.
Stay tuned for part two next week…
Recently, our singles community team went through some coaching on how to make our team closer… and hopefully better. Now, we’ve always thought we were running pretty well together and had tons of relational trust with each other, but we also knew that there was ground to be taken in how we worked together. We learned how to optimize our unique skills for the team. We identified our own strengths and weaknesses and admitted them to the group. We even took a test to see how well we were functioning with one another (and actually scored pretty well).
Our coach drew a pyramid on the board that she then split into five sections. The pyramid was a diagram detailing the five mistakes that teams tend to make. The base section was titled “Absence of TRUST”, followed on top by “Fear of CONFLICT”, “Lack of COMMITMENT”, “Avoidance of ACCOUNTABILITY”, and finally “Inattention to RESULTS” as the capstone. She then said something that stuck with me, “All successful teams deal with all of these in a healthy way, starting from the ground up with trust.”
As we began to study these five critical pieces of team success, I couldn’t help but think of the correlation into the health of our community groups. Groups must build on trust – trusting that their members are for them, encouraging them. Once trust is built (and the honeymoon phase is over), then conflict inevitably shows up. I realized that our healthiest groups use conflict as an opportunity to sharpen others and glorify God instead of merely running from it. Once a group experiences conflict and perseveres through it, then their commitment is tested and they realize that they need each other. Our healthiest groups don’t avoid accountability but move towards each other to remind each other of the gospel and identify blind spots that they still need to address. And lastly, our healthy groups know the direction that they want to head. They have a plan for their group and are strategic in their time together. They all know the vision and goals for their time together and will focus on their role (memorizing scripture, confessing sin, building healthy relationships) so that God will do His role (making them more like Christ).
If you drew a pyramid that expressed your groups’ model, what would it look like? What is one small way your group can become a better team this week?
Growing up, I always thought “community” was the place where you lived, and the people that surrounded you were part of your community. And yes, that is one definition of community. However, after moving to Dallas a few years ago and really learning what actually “being in community” meant, I was able to really reflect on where I had experienced community before.
In learning about community, I realized that the first time I really experienced this close knit bond with people, where Christ is the center, was in college. The community that God placed around me my freshman year helped pull me out of the depression I had felt, and brought me to life in Christ. They pointed me towards who I am in Christ and not who I am through the eyes of others. That community was the first place I experienced “Art worship” (ask me if you would like to know more), that changed the way I was able to experience Christ.
Then, after moving on to Tulsa for a period of time and not having a close community, I was able to see the importance Christ placed on community in our lives. Christ called us to be a part of the body (1 Cor. 12:13-27) and fellowship with other believers on a deeper level. As it states in 1 Corinthians 12, we all have a function in the body of Christ and we are all gifted in different areas. That is the beauty of everyone in your group being different than you. However, when you are living in community with others, it is easy to see everyone else’s faults and not their gifts. I would encourage you, if you are in a group, to look at what you don’t understand about a person and how that trait may actually be a gift Christ gave them to function as a part of the body of Christ. They may have the ability to minister to people in a different way than you- encourage them in that and spur them on.
I think sometimes community gets put in a box, but it’s your group, family, or friends that love you enough to “do life with you”. They lovingly point out your shortcomings, get excited when you are doing the Lord’s will, keep you accountable with authenticity, and most importantly, they spur you on to pursue Christ more everyday (Proverbs 27:17). The most exciting part about community for me is that we get to be the hands and feet of Christ to each other. We get the opportunity to show the same grace Christ gave us to others. And let me tell you, if you have been in community, you know how much grace you get to give others and how much more grace is given to you.
We are called to live in community, instead of isolation. Do you have it? If not, let me tell you what it’s done for me. Or come to the next GroupLink!
If you know me at all, you would probably be confused by the title of this blog entry. I might be the farthest thing from a cheerleader as most girls can be (junior high and earlier years excluded). But, if you’re my friend Sarah. . .you ran and grabbed your pom poms as soon as you read this title!
My challenge through this post is. . .how is your group doing at being the hands and feet of Christ (Romans 12:5, 1 Corinthians 12:27)? We do a good job of encouraging our groups here at Watermark to study and grow together, hold each other accountable and share authentically, and live life together. These are all necessary and true. . .but what about reaching out and sharing this with others?
GO. As a group, are you going to share the Good News with others? Matthew 28: 19-20 says, “Therefore, GO and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Mark 16:15 says, “GO into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone, everywhere.”
FIGHT. As a group, are you fighting for what you say you believe in? 1 Timothy 6:12 says, “FIGHT the good fight for what we believe. Hold tightly to the eternal life that God has given you, which you have confessed so well before many witnesses.” Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we are not FIGHTing against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms.”
WIN. As a group, are you winning souls for Christ? 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 says, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all that I might WIN more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to WIN Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might WIN those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might WIN those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might WIN the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”
Don’t let your group become so complacent that you water community down to a weekly meeting. Go out there and fight the good fight together. . .He has already given us victory! (1 Corinthians 15:57)