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June 2, 2010

The True Battle for Christian Community

Giving the Holy Spirit full sway to release our appetite for the Father

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One of my favorite authors and speakers is Larry Crabb. I’ve heard him speak on several occasions, and his definition of spiritual community is one of the most powerful ideals he shares. He defines Christian community this way:

“Reaching with supernatural community power into the depths of another person’s heart so that the evil in our hearts that rules so often unrecognized in how we relate is clearly identified and exposed as hateful and that the Holy Spirit is given full sway to release our appetite for the Father.”

There’s a lot in that statement. He expands on this statement further by saying the real battle to maintain community is helping one another overcome the suspicion that God is not good and that I need to take over. Sometimes we recognize that easily, other times we don’t. One of the main purposes of Christian community in our small groups is to help encourage one another as we face skirmishes in that battle.

Part of helping one another is walking with one another through trials of all kinds. We need to help one another see that God often allows us to go through things that are very crushing and discouraging in order to get us to the point where we are hopeless and helpless before Him. At that point, we can know there is nowhere else we can turn but to the Lord. However, going through that process alone can be very discouraging and create bitterness rather than growth. That’s why we absolutely need Christian community in order to truly grow. Where else can people really get into healthy growth processes other than in some type of intentional small group?

posted by Dan Lentz at 6:15 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

June 1, 2010

Thinking About Jesus' Small Group

Should there be a conflict between "couch time" and "street time"?

I had a chance to watch the above video from Alan Danielson this morning, and it's got me thinking a little bit. Actually, I can't tell if I'm thinking or reacting, which is one of the reasons I'm typing my thoughts out here (so that the rest of you can correct me, if needs be).

Here's the main thing I'm reacting to: "If Jesus and his small group, the 12 disciples, were here in this world today, you know where they would have small group? Not in a living room on overstuffed couches.... For Jesus and his small group, that was the exception, not the rule."

First, I need to say that I am a big fan of Alan Danielson. He's written several great pieces for SmallGroups.com on why small groups need to be On Mission, and I think his message needs to be heard. I also know Alan is not saying that small groups should never gather together in people's homes, since he has produced some great "on the couch" resources for small groups over the years (through LifeChurch.TV and Bluefish).

But this is a message I have heard from several sources and in several different guises recently: If Jesus were around today, he wouldn't participate in what we see as "normal" small groups. Therefore, what we see as "normal" small groups must be wrong and ineffective. .

And I'm not sure I agree.

First of all, it's kind of tough to translate Jesus' behavior from the 1st century into an equivalent behavior today. Certainly Jesus spent most of his public ministry "on the street." But we need to remember what office Jesus was serving under—he was a new rabbi, and one of hundreds of rabbis operating within a 10-mile circle. And the job of a new rabbi in that time and culture was to travel from village to village, teaching about Torah in the synagogues and gathering disciples that wanted to follow in his footsteps.

Would Jesus behave the same way if he lived today? I don't know that we can say so for sure. He may very well have set himself up as a local pastor and launched his revolution through the narrow arms of a local church.

That's probably quibbling, so let's get to the two big questions that Alan's video has me thinking about:

Question 1: Can a small group function without "couch time"?
I often hear people talking about our need to "get off our couches" and do something in the world. And I heartily agree that a group of Christians seeking to become more like Jesus should invariably make an impact in the community around them.

But can we also state that being "on the couch" is not a bad thing? That it can be beneficial, and even God-approved? After all, beside the Upper Room, it seems that Jesus and his disciples stopped regularly in the homes of different people in order to be refreshed and engage in times of learning, fellowship, and prayer—Mary and Martha's home comes to mind, in addition to Simon's mother-in-law and the house of Levi the Tax Collector.

I guess what I'm saying is: Let's know throw the baby out with the bathwater. Yes, we need to be on mission as a small group. But we don't need to feel guilty about taking time to enjoy fellowship with each other in the comfort of overstuffed couches; and we certainly should not abandon time spent in our living rooms worshiping together, praying together, and delving into the mysteries of God's Word together.

Question 2: What is the proper balance between the couch and the mission field?
So, if we say that a small group should be involved in both "couch time" and "street time," the next question is: Which of those should be our priority? Should small groups spend more time learning, praying, studying, and fellowshiping—or should they spend more time serving?

I don't have an answer to that one, and I would love your thoughts.

Obviously, most small groups in our culture are heavily waited on the "couch time" side of the question. I know mine is, and I'll confess that I do feel guilty about that. I need to lead my group into more times of mission and service.

But where's the line? What is the correct amount? How do we engage in those activities without burning out? Those things I just can't say.

posted by Sam O'Neal at 9:34 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)