2 Corinthians 5:16-20
16 So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! 17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust.
I grew up in small towns, and it's true what they say about small towns. People do tend to know about other people, and there is a lot of "knowing my business," if you know what I mean.
Despite comments I have heard to the contrary, Roanoke, Virginia is not a small town, by any stretch of the imagination. To give Roanokers a little perspective, in 2006 (14 years after I left town), Caldwell, Idaho had reached a population of 34,433. Small. The population of Anacortes, Washington, where I lived from Kindergarten through 7th grade, tipped the scales at 14,577 in 2000 (again, 14 years after my family left town in 1986). In the year 2000, Roanoke had 94,911, and the Roanoke metropolitan area had 235,932.
These facts don't enlighten us about communities, however. In a small town, communities blend and overlap, and by the degrees of separation, a person can almost know everyone and everyone can "get up in your business." Recently, at lunch with colleagues, we learned that just about everyone was connected in some way. One person's girlfriend lived in the same neighborhood as the person who had come to do our computer training that day. Her in-laws lived in a colleague's neighborhood. We were all connected through vicinity, relationships, or other commonalities.
In the church, I have found that it's a real struggle to keep that kind of community in the large group (Sunday services) setting. But don't we, as humans, crave community? We desire to be in groups that understand us, speak the same language, listen to the same music. We want people to lean on, to be there for us when we have problems. My friend Scott Schmidt led Living Water's time at communion last Sunday. He shared with us that "genuine community is where people are growing together to love God’s Word and God’s people." And why do we want community? Simple. God created us that way. He is the author of community. It is my firm belief that the church should work actively to create community and redeem community to its rightful meaning.
When a person engages in relationships with others that are not simply "hi, how ya doin'" chats on Sunday mornings, investing in the lives of others in a small group setting, lives are transformed. When a person trusts their group and leaders, it's easy to open up and share his or her challenges and hardships. Be real. Be forgiving. Feel safe in a way that he or she may not be able to feel in a large Sunday setting.
I've had my heart broken many times by people who left the church for another worship setting. It was nothing personal, they said, just needed a change. Why was my heart broken? I had invested in their life. In almost every situation, they had experienced a very difficult life experience, and the large-group Sunday setting knew all about it. We didn't have the small group format for real life sharing and caring. Suddenly, everyone was "up in their business," and it didn't feel good. It was scary. Much easier to leave and start over instead of be viewed as damaged goods, imperfect people, human.
I get it. I really do. It would bother me to no end to have my personal life an open book. In my experience, it's so much easier to talk about the messy stuff of my life with 8 people, not 108. These people have become my friends, my family, and my lifeline.
Through small groups, Living Water reconciles people to Jesus and redeems community for his purposes. We gather on Sundays for common worship, adoration and to celebrate Jesus's death and burial through communion - together - but real personal growth and introspection is perfected in small groups.
Thanks to Scott Schmidt for his guidance as Tim and I continue the ministry he began at Living Water. Scott, I can't thank you enough for your wisdom and the passion for groups you have instilled in my soul. Michelle, you have taught me the value of true friendship - a person that looks unflinchingly at someone's real life and heart loves that person (me) in spite of her flaws and foibles.