- Chris Smither
For the last several weeks, or probably months, Andy and I have been on a mission to determine our stance on small groups. Do they work? Are they beneficial? Are they a waste of time? Are more "organic" groups that are unofficial and unstructured the way to go? Should we even go to a small group? Have we ever been to a small group where we felt a real connection, felt like we had real community, or were impacted deeply? I call it a misson because that's how we saw it. We began asking friends all of these questions about their thoughts on small groups, to gather data to come to our hypothesis. We began to pick apart everything about small groups, talking about all the flaws, looking at it from every angle. And, the strange thing is, the more that we talked about it, the more negative and discouraged we became about it, until we finally almost reached the conclusion that we just shouldn't waste our time with small groups - what is the point? The more we talked about it, the more critical we became, the more discouraged we became, and the more we started to make other people discouraged along with us.
Finally, it dawned on me. I am a hypocrite. For all my talk about small groups having lack of community, I have not made an effort to really get to know the different people in my small group. For all my talk about not being impacted deeply by the teaching, I realized, how can I be impacted deeply when I go in with a passive attitude about being taught, not ready to learn? I say I want diversity in the small group, but when people who have vastly different personalities or ideas than me are present, I would much rather them sit still and quiet, so that I am not bothered by their different opinions.
All of the sudden, like a ton of bricks, I was struck with the fact that I am just like the Israelites in the wilderness, wandering around complaining day in and day out, while all the while the Lord was providing for them manna from heaven. I am just like the Israelites, who when they were delivered from Egypt, began grumbling and complaining, "Why did you bring us out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?" (Exodus 17:3) God has provided for me a wonderful local church. Seriously, I can't imagine what I would do without it. My pastor is amazing, he is sound doctrinally, and is so incredibly challenging. The vision of the church is incredible - exactly what I think it should be. And yet, instead of diving in and choosing to love people, choosing to begin to cultivate community and care for people (even people who are vastly different than me), I am complaining, just like the Israelites. And, if I'm honest, complaining is sin.
The quote I began with is a quote from Chris Smither, an excellent guitarist and musician. Any musician will tell you that there are ongoing debates on what kind of gear is the best, what kind of guitars to use, what kind of strings are the best, and so on. Chris comes to the conclusion that it's not the gear that is important in making music - it's the musician. An excellent guitarist will still be an excellent guitarist, even if he is using a cheap, crappy guitar. Likewise, a crappy guitarist will still be a crappy guitarist, even if he is using a top notch $20,000 guitar. Now, this doesn't mean that a better guitar won't sound better. What it does mean though is that the musician is more important than the gear they are using.
In the same way, I think you could compare this to small groups. When it comes down to it, I think my conclusion is that the method of small groups is not as important as my heart is. Methods will change. In ten years, the way that we are doing small groups will most likely not look the same as it does today. It will morph and change. However, if I go in to a small group with a negative attitude, and am not pouring myself out, like Paul said, as a drink offering (2 Timothy 4:6), then why should I expect to see anything positive. I am ultimately the problem. What we really and truly need is a collective group of people with an attitude that they will pour themselves out, their time, their money, their comfort, and convenience, so that the body of Christ will be edified and so that, ultimately, Christ will be exalted! What we really need is the blessing of God. Without it, we will not succeed. All of this begins with me taking on a humble attitude, and begging the Lord to create community where it is impossible.
I think we have a choice. I can choose to either complain and be miserable, bitter, and jaded about the church, or I can choose to pour my life into people. I can choose to pour out mercy on imperfect people, who are just like me. I think in general we are on one of two sides of mercy: either receiving it or giving it away. I don't want to look back on my life and realize that I spent it being bitter about the imperfections of people, or the church. I would much rather look back on my life and realize that there are imperfections, and lots of them, but look back on my life and realize that I have poured out myself as a drink offering for the sake of the gospel, I have been constantly giving mercy away.
Oh that the Lord would grant us humble attitudes, that he would draw us out of the sin of complaining, and would grant us the grace to serve and to love imperfect people (even hypocrites), just like Jesus did!