In light of the Lenten Community Group
starting next week, I offer one of my favorite Ponderings on the beautiful mess that we know as small groups.
Question for you: What do a felon on a home-monitoring-ankle-bracelet; a self-described, “jobless-junky who has found God”; two former Young Life workers; an engaged couple who are seeking to honor God in their relationship; someone who is desperately seeking God’s direction for the next step in their life; all have in common?
Answer: They are all people I have the honor of journeying with each week in small group.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about them lately. Marveling really. Because God has used this rag-tag bunch, of which I certainly fit into, to reveal to me how messy and exhilarating someone’s spiritual journey can be.
Take Bryan. This past April we celebrated Bryan’s Freedom Day. The day when his year long home monitoring came to an end, by the removal of his (not so stylish) Wisconsin Department of Correction’s ankle bracelet. As I’ve been thinking about that evening, where we found ourselves doing a count down to 9:30pm (Bryan’s former DOC curfew) and a cheer acknowledging his freedom on that day, I’m struck by how this was a beautiful metaphor for our group as a whole.
In one way or another we are all on a journey towards freedom. Freedom from what holds us captive from the life Jesus invites us into. Our journey towards freedom is fueled by God’s transforming grace. But God’s transforming grace isn’t solely an individualistic commodity. It’s a commodity that God enables us as his body – His representatives to be a catalyst for as well. Which is why I believe small groups are so centrally important to our growth towards freedom in Christ.
Sadly, it’s taken this long in my journey with Jesus to embrace this as a way of life. To embrace that this is what life in the church should be like. Needs to be like. Must be like. And when I say this, I hope you can sense I mean really embrace it. Not just give lip service to it. Not just to view your small group as the time of the week you can be with your friends - but to view your small group as a transition point. A weekly check-point where you not only receive God’s grace through others in the body, but a point in the week that God calls on you to dispense His grace to others as well.
Christ has given us the mission to share his transforming life to any and all who come across our path. As we intentionally seek to accomplish this mission - that in the Scriptures we see is close to the heart of Jesus - church will get messy. We will have people who come through our doors who are living messed up lives; have a messed up view of God and are in desperate need of God’s transforming grace.
This will create tensions for many of us. Because it will do something that many of us will not be ready for. It will show us how our well rehearsed, Christian cliché answers and methods simply don’t work anymore - and will send us scrambling.
But this will actually be a good thing for us. Because it will force us to do what followers of Christ have always done – seek to make the changeless, grace filled message of Jesus relevant, in the midst of a changing culture. This will be hard work but it will be some of the most rewarding work we can do - because in the process God will give us the amazing pleasure of experiencing messed up lives put back together – and then we will be able to turn around and help others.
A book I recently read had this to say about having a mission such as this, “doing church like this is a mess . . . but it’s a beautiful mess.”*
A beautiful mess. Yep, that sums up my small group. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Paraphrasing Jesus, “I’ve come to seek those who are messed up.” In my group Jesus has hit the jackpot and so have I. My hope and prayer is that the church at large will share this windfall with those who need it the most.
*From, No Perfect People Allowed, by John Burke