In the coming week, many of us will once again become part of a regular discipline for North Coasters (now, quite literally) across the globe. I’m referring to a practice that is genuinely the lifeblood of North Coast Church; that of actively joining in community by participating in a weekly Life Group. In this writing, I’m going to show you the things you can do to help make this the best experience ever.
For the next 10 weeks, some will be heading to homes, others to campus classrooms and still others logging back into their Zoom accounts, to reconnect or connect for the first time with others who understand that we are created for relationship. And that relationship happens best in community. The idea of being connected to one another and to the word of God.
At North Coast, our Life Groups are key to building significant Christian relationships and growing closer to God. Life Groups exist to promote spiritual maturity and personal growth through meaningful Christian relationships and the study of God’s Word.
But my real impetus here goes well beyond infomercial; regardless of how thinly veiled, it may seem.
In fact, this week during one of my morning devotionals with Our Daily Bread, I took special interest and ultimately found myself both inspired by and convicted through these words and I hope you find them purposeful also.
“On June 16, 1858, as the newly nominated Republican candidate for the US Senate from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous ‘House Divided’ speech, which highlighted the tensions between various factions in America regarding slavery. It caused a stir among Lincoln’s friends and foes. Lincoln felt it was important to use the ‘house divided’ figure of speech that Jesus used in Matthew 12:25 because it was widely known and simply expressed. He used this metaphor ‘so it would strike home to the minds of men in order to rouse them to the peril of the times.’”
“While a divided house can’t stand, the implied opposite can—an undivided house stands unified. In principle, that’s what the household of God is designed to be (Ephesians 2:19). Though made up of people from various backgrounds, together we’ve been reconciled to God (and each other) through Jesus’ death on the cross (vv. 14–16). In view of this truth (see Ephesians 3), Paul offers this instruction to believers in Jesus: ‘Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace’” (4:3).
“Today, when heightened tensions threaten to divide people who are otherwise united, such as our families and fellow believers, God can give the wisdom and strength needed to keep unity with one another through the help of the Spirit. This will cause us to be light in a dark, divided world.”
“An undivided house stands unified.”
“Faith in Christ is a communal experience rather than an individual one. When the New Testament describes the lives of believers in Jesus, the terms used are almost always plural—and that’s the case in Ephesians 2:17–22. Key expressions are ‘fellow citizens’ (v. 19) and ‘built together’ (v. 22). In each case, the body of Christ, not the individual, is in view.”
“Additionally, not only are these expressions plural, but they also point strongly toward the church as community—found in the words fellow and together. These terms do more than express plurality, however. They also speak of entering into a shared experience with one another as believers in Jesus. This idea is reinforced more than twenty-five times in the New Testament as we’re challenged by ‘one another’ statements—for example, Romans 12:10, 16; 15:7; Ephesians 4:2, 32; 5:21—that guide how we’re to relate to each other as fellow members of the body of Christ.”
What might it look like for each of us to do our part to be an undivided house? How is it that we can be unified while still maintaining our own, individually created personalities?
I’d encourage each of us to read through these passages and make a list of the qualitative words the Apostle Paul uses to guide us in how we, as Christ followers are called to relate to one another and indeed, even those outside of our faith.
I would also like to encourage each of us to very strongly consider the wise counsel found in a document many of us will look at in the coming weeks called our Life Group Agreement, specifically in the section called, “Five Marks of a Healthy Group.”
It’s so easy, especially in groups that have been meeting for a while, to overlook or just give a passing glance to these 5 principles. But I’d argue they will strongly influence our experience, either in a good way by the degree to which they are followed, or in not such a good way, resulting in a less desirable experience for any who treat them with disdain or blow them off.
For our Groups to be healthy, we need to….
1. Make spiritual growth our number one priority. (Colossians 3:2, Proverbs 4:25, Matthew 6:33, Psalm 1: 1-6, Romans 8:5, Philippians 4:8, Matthew 6:24, Proverbs 16:3, 2 Timothy 2:15, Proverbs 2: 2-5…).
So much of scripture speaks to this powerful principle because, as sinful human beings, our default is to get distracted by things that are, ultimately, less important. We need to be careful not to get sidetracked down too many rabbit trails and be able to support and encourage one another toward keeping to the study before us. Tangents can occasionally be okay, but sometimes we also need to be refocused. We need to keep spiritual growth our focus and stay on topic.
- Accept one another. (Romans15:7).
Welcoming (or accepting) one another as Christ has accepted each of us – in spite of our differences, messiness, sinfulness and with all of our baggage, is such an important principle to keep in mind as we get into and build community again with one another.
- Take care of one another. (John13:34).
In a church the size of North Coast and with all of the things our staff is called to do, it can sometimes seem difficult for our pastors to provide attention everywhere it is needed. In Jesus’ command for us to love one another, however, we are all called to minister to one another. This means being willing to lend an ear, praying for, providing for and being there for one another where appropriate, and doing what we can to represent the hands and feet of Jesus to one another and to our broken world. Especially when crisis happens, we’re there to help with support, prayer, encouragement, listening, meals, etc.
- Treat each other with respect. (Ephesians4:25-5:2).
It’s important that we learn to really listen to one another. If one person is talking, everyone else should be actively listening. It’s very difficult to focus and hear another’s point where there is crosstalk. Our goal, however, should be to listen, not give advice; to ask (thoughtful questions) more than tell. (Advice should only be given when asked for and even, then, based upon your own, personal experience that others may learn from [vs. your telling them what they should or need to do].)
Work with your group facilitator to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to be heard from each week. This does not mean putting others on the spot or interrogating them for a response but may mean watching more closely the length and depth of your responses and making certain you are leaving others the time and opportunity to share.
Most every group has someone in it who tends to dominate the conversation. If you’re not sure who this is in your group, be careful…it may just be you. There’s a time when it’s good and appropriate to share and a time when it’s better to listen. (Proverbs 17:28)
Don’t tell other people’s stories – either within or outside of your group. (Proverbs 16:28 [and so many others.]
- Keep our commitments to the group. (Psalm15:1-2,4b).
You’ve signed up to participate in community and “taken a seat” someone else may have wanted to occupy, so make every effort to be there. No good impression can be made if you merely sign up but never show up. Everyone who’s ever been in a group has had times when they don’t feel like going. (…long day, lots of balls in the air, feeling tired, etc.) And yet, so many report that once they’ve powered through and made the effort – in spite of how they were feeling – they found themselves re-energized and so glad they went. We were created for community. And the enemy will do everything in his power to keep us from it. Defeat him; attend…participate. And if there’s a time you just really can’t make it, do the right thing by letting your leaders and others within the group know. Share also with them, anyway they might pray for you in the time/space between when you can next be together.
These 5 principles have been proven sound and yet; facts are facts: relationships in our lives don’t just happen. They require time, effort, love and even a measure of flexibility.
People can be challenging and hard to deal with. But isolation and withdrawal lead to loneliness, which is worse. We were never intended to do this life on our own.
Being in community with others – especially with other sinners who claim Christ – teaches us how to become peacemakers.
We grow through learning together.
And when you do or even if you already have, may I challenge you to review and pray over the 5 principles mentioned in this thread? Pray with genuine intention about the specific principles that you feel need to be, or that you would most like to see focused upon and lived out within your group this quarter. Pray that God may give you vision, wisdom, discernment and direction about the role you specifically will play in bringing about positive influence and, perhaps, real change in the lives of your group’s members. And then listen for and follow His response.
I’ll see you out there,