Small Groups

Small Groups - Reaching out

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This is the fourth post in a mini-series looking at the purpose of our Small Groups here at Christ Church Walkley. See the first post here, second here and third here.

I’ve often found that evangelism gets tagged on to small group life rather than being a focus of what we’re doing together. When time is short, and life is hard, evangelism tends to drop off most small groups radars. I wonder whether this sometimes reflects our lives individually, where our focus is more easily directed to growing as a Christian and being in the safety of church family. When we read 1 Peter though we get a different perspective on evangelism in our life together:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honourable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
— 1 Peter 2:9–12, ESV

In this passage we’re described in two ways, the first is obviously positive, that we are now God’s chosen people. But see the reason Peter gives for why God has made us into his people, that we would proclaim God’s goodness. We are made to be God’s people for the purpose of proclaiming God’s excellencies – glorifying him. This view moves evangelism from an additional component of our lives to the very centre. Notice that it’s also something we say, we proclaim it, our evangelism has to involve an element of speaking about God to others.  As small groups proclaiming the gospel is fundamental to who we now are. Whether that happens together or by supporting one another in prayer as we do it individually, proclaiming the gospel is part of who we’ve been made to be.

The second way we’re described is as sojourners and exiles. We’re sojourners and exiles in this world because we’re now a new people with a new home – we belong somewhere else. But that brings its own challenges, we live as Christians in a world with different values and morals and we’re constantly being called to conform. Obedience to God, living as his people, can be immensely challenging in this world, but Peter sees it as a means by which people will come to glorify God when Christ returns. Our evangelism involves the way we live in our workplaces, families and community. Proclamation of the gospel and living a godly life amongst unbelievers are inseparable and fundamental to what it is to be one of God’s people. If our small groups are going to places where we reach out from we’ve got to be supporting and encouraging one another to be living as exiles and reminding each other that we are a people who have received mercy so that we can tell others about our God.

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Small Groups - Growing together

This is the third post in a mini-series looking at the purpose of our Small Groups here at Christ Church Walkley. See the first post here, and second here.

Last week’s post saw how one way of avoiding Small Groups becoming inward-focussed and self-seeking was for them to be continually looking outward to God, seeking to bring him glory. In practice, part of that involves growing together in Christian maturity, so our lives and speech are increasingly glorifying to God. Take a look at Ephesians 4:25-32:

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbour, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labour, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
— Ephesians 4:25-32, ESV

This follows on from Paul telling those he was writing to that by knowing Jesus they have been fundamentally changed, and they should be growing in their Christlikeness. And here Paul gets very specific about what that growth looks like. I want to highlight just two aspects of what hes says in the passage quoted above.

Firstly, notice the emphasis on what we say. We are to speak the truth, to build one another up with our words, to avoid slander and falsehood. The reference to not grieving the Holy Spirit probably fits here too, most likely referring to Israel’s grumbling in the wilderness (See Exodus 15 and Isaiah 63).  Our words matter more than we might think. It’s not just that dishonesty, corrupting and untimely words are wrong and sinful, but they damage our Christian brothers and sisters and grieve the Holy Spirit. The call is to have both the right content to our speech and the right manner of saying it. Rebuking someone harshly may be honest, but is unlikely to give grace to them or to build them up. Simply being ‘nice’ and being unwilling to address areas of sin with one another rapidly becomes dishonest. Neither help us to grow together in Christlikeness.

Secondly, notice that it all stems from God’s forgiveness of us. We treat one another in the same way that God has treated us. If we are to speak openly and honestly with one another we will inevitably touch nerves and sensitive areas. We will all make mistakes. We will likely waver between speaking falsely and speaking insensitively. So we must be willing to forgive one another when we get it wrong, to not respond with bitterness, anger and slander, but with honesty, kindness and humility. If we are to grow together in Christlikeness then our attitude towards each other must, at root, reflect God’s attitude to us. He has treated us on the basis of forgiveness and mercy, so we must treat one another in the same way – even when that means absorbing the cost and pain of someone else’s sin towards us.

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