Today is Small Group Sunday. Everything we talk about this morning is going to be geared toward small groups. I know some of you aren’t convinced yet that small groups are the way to go, but I hope that we can change your mind this morning.
Small groups accomplish two of our core values. If you take the pamphlet that’s in your chair and open it I want to read over these two core values with you. The first one is communal. We believe that life is better together, maintaining good relationships with others. No one was meant to live on an island. We weren’t designed to live alone. Even though some of us try very hard not to let anyone in, it was not meant to be this way. We’ll spend some more time discussing this value in a bit.
The core value I want to speak of first is missional. We have a purpose, a mission. The Body of Christ was not designed to be stagnant, to sit still. We are created to go into the world and make disciples. For so long we’ve been conditioned that if we want our friends to go to heaven, we should bring them to church so they might hear the gospel. We’ve put the burden of evangelism on the church staff. They were trained for it, after all. We’re going to look at two scriptures that I believe turn that model on its head.
Go and make disciples. Jesus said “Go.” Why is it we focus on “bring?” Nowhere in scripture can we find the sentiment that if we will just bring people into the meeting place of a church we have fulfilled our obligation as missionaries. Jesus told us to go and make disciples. Disciple making takes place outside of these walls. Jesus also said we would be his witnesses to the “ends of the earth.” The ends of the earth don’t walk into our building because it’s here. We have to go to them.
Small group is us going to them. We want to place small groups strategically around the community so we can be where the people are. People live in neighborhoods. They live in duplexes. They live in apartments and trailer homes. We want to establish groups in all these places so we can reach those people. We want to go into all the world and make disciples. We are all called to share God’s word with people. We are all called to be missionaries. You may say that you don’t have enough education to talk about the Bible. Peter and Andrew, James and John, they were fishermen. How educated do you think they were? You are missionaries. You are preachers and teachers. You are healers. You are comforters. The only way you’ll know who needs healing, the only way you’ll know who needs comforting is to go to where the people are. Small groups are missional.
We hope to grow bigger by growing smaller. Each small group is a mini church. Each small group leader becomes a mini church pastor. We’re planting mini churches all over town and then when we come together on Sunday morning we get to celebrate what God is doing in our midst. We come together on Sunday mornings and get encouragement from being around other believers and hearing from God’s word. We get to celebrate in worship and experience the Holy Spirit. We come together as family and just celebrate being family. Small groups are the front door to Cornerstone Fellowship. They serve to show people what we’re all about. They let people experience just a little of what Cornerstone is and they do it in an environment that isn’t threatening. You get to bring people into your home for a brownie and a cup of coffee and just talk. You get to know each other and you share what’s going on in your lives. Then you spend time talking about the previous week’s message and apply it to your own situation.
Small groups are the outreach arm of Cornerstone, but they also serve the purpose of discipleship. By discussing the sermon from the previous week you get to dive into scripture together as a group. By using the sermon scripture reference each week, we’re not dependant on an outside curriculum and we lessen the pressure on the leader to develop a lesson. Instead, we get to all focus on what we’ve already read and we get to apply it to our own situations. We go deeper, in other words. I’ve heard thousands of sermons in my life, but I don’t remember most of them. If we will take time to delve deeper into the word, we may not remember the sermon itself, but we will surely get more out of the scripture.
Small groups are missional. Jesus said “Go” so we must go. We plant these groups in the community and we go to the people. Small groups are also communal, though. They help us build real, authentic relationships, which is a third core value of who we strive to be. Authenticity is important. We believe people have questions about God, the church, our purpose, and life in general. We want people to ask these questions and we want an honest dialog to take place. You don’t have to have all the answers; we just want people to feel comfortable enough to ask the questions.
In the book of Acts we find the example of the early church. Again, they didn’t have the luxury of a blueprint or a church planting book. They just had Jesus and the Holy Spirit. None of these guys had been to seminary and none had a degree in theology. This is what they did. They met together and studied the apostles’ teachings. We’re going to go over the previous week’s sermon and dive deeper into the scripture used. They spent time in fellowship. We’re going to fellowship. They broke bread together. Hello! I can’t think of many things I like better than eating. They prayed together. Why are we afraid of small groups? All of these things are easy. In fact, they sound refreshing to me. There’s no pressure. You don’t have to stand up in front of the group and give a speech. You don’t have to be someone you’re not.
Small groups also help to meet your needs. How will we know you have a need unless you tell us about it? In the safety of a small group you can be yourself, let others get to know you. You will not be judged. In fact, you will be loved. Get involved in one of these groups and let the hosts love on you. This passage in Acts says they were of one heart and soul. They came together and had the same goals. How difficult is it in the world to find someone you really connect with? People always have their own agendas to accomplish. They’re always looking out for themselves. In small groups the only agenda is Jesus Christ. Scripture says they had everything in common. It is our hope that as we grow and get better at this ministry that we plant small group communities all over town. By doing this we hope to have small groups in every walk of life, in every social and ethnic group, with one purpose, building the Kingdom of God. They had everything in common. There was also not a needy person among them because they met each others’ needs. If there was a financial need, they gave money and took care of it. If there was an emotional need, they supported and lifted each other up. They took care of one another. We want to take care of you. As a church, we want to make sure that you’re provided for. We can’t do that if we don’t know.
This is our final scripture for the day. It is probably the most difficult one as well. James talks about what real biblical community looks like. He first talks about what we just finished discussing. If anyone is suffering or sick, let him call the elders together to pray for him. We want to pray for you. We want to meet your needs, but we have to know what they are before we can meet them. Then James goes into something less comfortable for us. He says, “…confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed.”
We’ve been talking about real community, about authenticity, about fellowship. Real community, real relationships only take place where there’s vulnerability. I can’t know you; you can’t know me unless we are honest with each other, unless we talk about our lives with each other. This is where it gets difficult.
Why are small groups so hard?
We are uneducated. We are indoctrinated into a 20th century model of church. It’s all we know. If you’ve been involved in a local church in some form or fashion for 10 years or more, you have to re-educate yourself on what church can look like. We are, by and large, uninformed about Christianity at all. We are an independent, western people and Christianity is a communal, eastern faith. It assumes things that we’re not used to or comfortable with. The early church would have had no problems going to someone’s home or having people into their own home. They were a very hospitable people. Even today in eastern countries the people are very open and hospitable. We have to retrain ourselves to be more open and less private.
Why are small groups hard?
We are scared. We don’t want to be vulnerable. We don’t like letting people see who we really are. We don’t want anyone to get past the walls we’ve set up around ourselves. We like our privacy fences and back yards. We’re scared. We want to fix ourselves before we present anything to anyone else. We want to get everything right before we show anyone who we are. We fix our hair a certain way and wear our clothes a certain way so that people will accept us. We don’t want them to see that deep down we really like pajama pants and t-shirts.
The problem with this line of thinking is that we can’t fix ourselves. We can’t make ourselves presentable. It goes back to our relationship with God. We can’t make ourselves right and then come to God. It’s in the act of coming to God that we get made right. We’ll never be clean enough to stand before God. Paul says our righteousness (the days when we do the right thing and say the right thing and live the right way) is as filthy rags. On our best days we still can’t measure up to what God wants for us. It’s only because of the sacrifice of Jesus that we can stand before God at all. Why would we assume, then, that we should clean ourselves up before we can present ourselves to people? Instead we come just like we are, broken and bruised. We’re inviting you into a safe place where you can be you. Some of you are so tired of trying to be someone else it’s killing you. You’re sitting here this morning wishing you could just tell someone, but you’re terrified of what they might think. You’re not judged here. Jesus said come if you are weary and burdened and find rest in him. That’s what we’re offering.
We get well together, in community and relationship with each other. It’s why 12-step programs work. It’s why group therapy works. We get well together when we rely on each other and are authentic with one another. We’re inviting you into a community where you can get well. You weren’t designed to live alone. You were made for relationship.
People aren’t perfect and these small groups won’t be perfect, but we’re inviting you into real relationship. We get well together. It can be a painful process and it might hurt, but healing sometimes hurts. When you break a bone it hurts while it’s growing back together. If you pinch a nerve it hurts until the inflammation goes down. Healing can be painful, but it’s better than walking around the rest of your life with a broken bone.
Relationships can be messy because we’re all broken people. That’s what we need to realize. We’re all broken. No one person can make us whole. No one can complete us. Jerry Maguire was wrong. Jesus is the one who completes us. Don’t look for small groups to be anything more than they are, a group of broken people doing life together. Don’t expect someone to solve all your problems, but together you can talk through your problems and hopefully get a little better, a little more whole. As part of that, Tim and I are going to model vulnerability for you. We’re both messed up people. We don’t hide that fact. Ask us about our own stories. We don’t always like where they’ve taken us, but we like what Jesus is doing is our lives now. We want you to experience real community.
So today we invite you to join a small group. We invite you to get plugged into Cornerstone, to get involved. Being involved gives you ownership and purpose. We need these two things, ownership and purpose. We need to feel like something is ours. This can be your home. This can be your church. You can have a purpose here. Join a small group. Plug yourself in at Cornerstone.