Recently, a member of my community group and staff member at my church texted out that the church was going to do a video on the benefits of joining a community group and how the group has affected your life. For some reason, I immediately volunteered to be a part of it and give some of my testimony. During the 2 weeks or so that I was waiting to get contacted about setting up some time to record the video, I had a lot of time to really reflect on the idea of community groups and what mine has meant to me over the past 3 years.
If you don’t know, a community group is a small group of people who get together outside of church and live life together in some way for a short time each week. Normally, our pastoral staff will put out a lesson plan for us to go over that continues the conversation from that week’s sermon and takes a deeper dive in a more intimate setting. We have some snacks, study the Scripture, share our thoughts and how things we discuss can be used in our lives, our short comings, etc. Normally, we then split up into the men’s group and the ladies group so we can complain about our spouses without them hearing lol. Ok, maybe not complain about them, but we can have a time to share a little more intimately about some things going on in our lives and hearts and how we could use prayer. We also support each other outside of that weekly get together as well, sending positive texts, praying for each other, being there if anyone needs anything.
It’s an opportunity for us to live a bit as the first century Christians did in the book of Acts. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer”. (Acts 2:42) It continues “They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need”. (Acts 2:45) They spent time with each other, outside of the Temple, to pray and live life, to help provide for each other, to learn about Jesus and His message of salvation.
I had also thought of a piece of Scripture that I really hadn’t put with the idea of community in faith and that is in Exodus 12, where the Amalekites attacked Israel. Moses held his hands up during the battle and Israel prevailed, but as he grew tired and his arms dropped, the tides of the battle turned and the Amalekites began to win. Aaron and Hur brought a big stone for Moses to sit and rest and they helped him to hold his arms up for the rest of the battle.
The point is, you’re not strong enough to win the battles of life (and spirit) alone. You need people around you who can “lift your arms” so to speak. When life has knocked you to the ground and you don’t have the energy to stand up, let alone to have faith or hope, how do you expect to lift yourself back up and keep fighting? That’s where a community around you comes in! Before you get knocked completely down, before your faith wanes, before you lose hope, they will lift you up and help you stay standing and stay in the fight! They will pray with and for you, they will fight alongside you, they will help you to keep your eyes on Jesus and keep the hope that He gives strong.
We first met our community group after only being at our church for a few months. We didn’t even know any of them. I heard that there were 2 elders and a deacon in the group and began getting really nervous, feeling like I couldn’t live up to the level of faith and knowledge of Scripture that they must be at. I hadn’t taken my faith seriously in many years and was pretty uncomfortable thinking about how I would be judged. I felt like I wouldn’t be a good enough Christian to be around people that must be such amazing Christians to be in positions like that. I felt intimidated that I wouldn’t be good enough.
As it turns out though, each person in the group is broken, just like me. Maybe not exactly like me, but in their own ways. Each person has some sort of sin, some sort of self confidence issue, something not quite right inside of themselves somewhere. And I began to realize, that IS THE POINT of following Jesus!! We are all broken somehow and we NEED Jesus to be able to be forgiven and made whole. Nobody is what you think a perfect Christian would be, except Jesus Himself. The true “perfect Christian” is someone who realizes that they have flaws, realizes that they aren’t better than anyone else, realizes that they need Jesus. The “perfect Christian” is someone who knows that they are broken and are open to trying to work with Jesus to fix their brokenness.
Within 2 months of joining our group, my wife had surgery and these people that we barely knew were praying for us, reaching out to see what our needs were, getting meal deliveries organized. They were showing us the love of Christ the way that the Christians in Acts did. Then a few months later, my heart attack and surgery and subsequent loss of income for several months. Again, they rallied and took care of us, making sure that we had everything we needed including their time, prayers and financial support. Over the years, life has happened many times. Life has kicked me and our family in the crotch with the loss of loved ones, financial woes, health concerns, issues with our son’s mental health. And every single time, this group of people has loved us and cared for us in some way or another. Coming to my father in law’s funeral, checking in via text, making time to hang out when things were hard and we felt alone and isolated, mentoring us in our marriage and our faith.
I was truly stagnant in my faith for quite a few years. Just kind of stuck in the mindset that if I was a good person, I would go to heaven. There were a few times where my tiny spark of faith was hit by a gust of wind and began to ignite, only to be extinguished quickly as the wind died down. After really committing to be around other believers and trying to open up and share about my faith, my struggles and where I truly was, I was seeing some results. I began to notice that with each step I took towards being a part of a community of believers came another blow from the bellows and soon my tiny spark became a full on, raging inferno. There was no way that I would have thought 3 years ago that I would be playing on the worship team or that I would have even considered writing this blog. There was no way that I would have believed that I would be praying out loud with my wife or being a part of the prayer team at church and actually praying out loud in front of other people, many of whom I’ve heard some really strong and eloquent prayers from.
You can pretend to be ok and strong on your own. You can pretend to be growing in your faith on your own. But the truth is, you aren’t ok on your own. You may be strong enough to take some shots in life, but you’ll never be able to win the battles alone. If you don’t speak about your faith and allow yourself to be mentored by those further in their walk, and in turn help to mentor those who aren’t quite where you are, then your faith won’t grow very strong or for very long. You actually do need a community around you. It doesn’t need to be anything as formal as a community group like my church has, but a few people to do life together with. A few people to journey through faith with. A few people to hold you accountable and to love you the way that followers of Christ are called to love one another.
There is nothing wrong with asking for help and it’s very rewarding to be able to be there for someone else when they need help. It’s very common for us to not really have much of a relationship with the people who sit in the same room with us each Sunday. For many, that relationship is what I call the Sunday morning hi how are you’s. We ask the same question to the same people and likely get the same response from each person, “I’m good, you?” or perhaps “Things are great, God is good (all the time).” But that’s generally not the truth, but rather just a pleasantry that we have been conditioned to respond with. We don’t want other believers to know that we are struggling to get through the day or that our marriage/family life is crumbling. Or that our finances are in terrible shape. We are too afraid that the people around us will judge us for not being “the perfect Christian,” however when we take the time to have a deeper relationship with believers around us, we can pour our hearts out to them and know that we aren’t alone. We can know that they have been through some similar things and can actually relate to us and not judge us for being mad at God or for struggling to believe after a tragic event. They can see our hurt, love us, and help us to refocus on the one that matters the most, King Jesus.
A community of people around will change your life. It may not be today or in a few months, but I promise that it will take you and your faith on a journey that you never would have expected on your own.