Adam Gibson, the author of this post, serves as one of our pastors and elders on the vision team along with Allen Tipping. For more information about our leadership, visit our Leadership page.
Most church small groups and classes will have some similar elements. Things like bible study and prayer are usually central. Hopefully bible application, confession, encouragement, and loving correction will also be included. All of these are elements that we have taught and implemented since we planted our church. I would argue that Scripture explicitly instructs us to incorporate all of them into our lives as believers, and that our growth as Christians will always be stunted without them.
On top of these crucial elements there are some additional ideas that, in my experience, make our vision for LifeGroups distinct. We try to lead our groups to have a goal of cultivating a community that enjoys one another and has a view towards welcoming others into it.
The Hard Work of Enjoying Others
We want our groups to put in the hard work of learning to actually enjoy one another. Some might ask, "why not just let biblical community happen naturally? Why does there need to be a formalized system (like LifeGroups) to make it happen?" While biblical community certainly can form naturally, it's been my experience that often this leads to fairly homogenous groups. We naturally gravitate towards people who look like us, think like us, talk like us, and do life like us. If we're not careful, this can mean that we never learn to love people who differ from us at all.
It is very easy to love the idea of biblical community. It is quite another thing to love the real people who are actually around you. Every day our fragmented, individualized society teaches us that if someone is different from me then I cannot meaningfully connect with them. Many American Christians have imported this idea into their view of the church and want to only share life with people they easily get along with.
A More Difficult and More Beautiful Picture
The biblical vision for the church stands in contrast to this however, and calls us to love the unlovely, the weak, the immature, the difficult...because this is how Jesus has loved us in our weakness and immaturity. We are to bear with the failings of the weak, welcome the immature, and love the real people around us, not just love the idea of community. In Christ, we are “family-fied.” We are united by something more powerful than anything that could separate us.
A gospel community should always have a view for enjoying the flawed humans who make it up, all the while welcoming others into it. We think this is the mission of the church. And when, fueled by God's Spirit, these things begin to come together, neighborhoods and cities begin to change.
Because of this, it is our expectation that your LifeGroup will be difficult at times. Learning to love people who are different than you will feel counterintuitive, and that's because it is. After all, we serve a God who came to earth, put on human flesh, and extended grace towards people who hated him, gossiped about him and eventually conspired to kill him. This should be our standard and our inspiration for our efforts to love and pursue those different than us.
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