Small Group/Church Shopping
Mark: Speaking personally, it took Patty and I a long time to find a church that we felt comfortable at. And I would argue that we’re still traveling around and we’re still seeking. We visit other churches and there’s a new church forming up in our area. We’re probably going to become part of that church in the formal sense. So we’re constantly looking and we actually enjoy the whole process. We meet a lot of new people. We hear the gospel from a different perspective. And I’m not intimidated by that.
Tim: That’s very Jewish.
M: Yes, it is very Jewish. A lot of people don’t know my background. I’m from a Jewish family, both sides. So I’m a Christian Jew.
T: Shopping for rabbis.
T: That’s a very ancient and honored tradition in the Jewish world.
M: So we’re still doing that. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. And I think people should feel comfortable. But there is an in-person thing, there’s something about the relationship that you can develop sitting at a table with somebody, breaking bread with somebody. Those are the people who could be there for you in a crisis. Virtually, that’s a lot harder. Sometimes you need somebody to give you a hug and show up at your house when you’re struggling or help you move or whatever it is. To do life with you. That’s I think, that piece you just can’t do virtually as well. And so the in-person matters. Inside of a church, be it a megachurch or a smaller church, there is what we call small group, right? So there are different terms for I’ve heard different terms for it.
T: Small group, community group, home group.
M: Yeah, I’ve heard life group, study groups and some people just call them Bible study, right? Wednesday night Bible study or whatever it is. So this is a facet of the church, and I would say the church in both senses, in the cultural sense, in the building sense, and the gathering sense. Almost every church, certainly every church I’ve ever been to, says, “Oh, you should join one of these groups.” They consider it important. There’s a variety of emphasis on this, right? On the idea of the small group and being intimate with people around the study of the Word. And so my question would be, you get into a church, now you’re going to get exposed to this idea, the small group. For me, that was even more intimidating because I could go to church in the big sense and walk in, sit in the back row and nobody knew whether I was there or not. If I didn’t show up the next week, nobody knew that I didn’t show up. And then somebody telling me, “Oh no, you need to be with a small group of people who are going to know if you show up, who are going to know how much you know about the Bible or not, who are all going to sit around when you’re a new person, they’re all going to know that secret language that you don’t know, and you’re going to sit there from my perspective and just feel like the idiot in the room,” right? I don’t know anything. So for guys that have been around this for a long time, describe to people what the purpose of a small group is, how to deal with it when you’re like me and you felt completely intimidated by going into a small group. Is it important?
What People Think of Me
T: Well, let me address first something that underlies what you were saying. “I’m concerned about what people think of me.”
M: Yeah, okay.
T: And I think this is really important for anyone. And this is with respect to everything, the idea that we can know what other people think of us is an illusion.
T: You never know what someone else thinks of you. You know what their facial expression was and you know what they said. But there’s a pretty good chance that they weren’t actually thinking about you either of those times. They were probably thinking about themselves and what you think of them.
Joey: Yeah, I can add to that. I’ve gone to small groups my entire life. I led a small group up until the time we started doing this home church. And every single Thursday I would go feeling a little bit nervous and I’ve been professional minister my whole life. But I would go, and I’m a high introvert. I would just go with this certain level of, you know, uncertainty. So the reality is everybody in the room feels that way to one degree or the other. And the real irony is that although that’s, you know, very present, the reason that we keep going is because the vulnerability, the sense of belonging, the sense of being seen, those are the things that we deeply want. And so we get caught in this kind of no man’s land where it’s like, “I want to be seen, but I don’t want anybody to see me.” Right? And so it’s difficult. You know, you do have to take these challenging steps and put yourselves in these situations, but that’s the only way that you can get the sense of belonging and community that you really crave and that you really long for. We live in New York City. There’s so many people who feel so isolated and so lonely, although they’re surrounded by people all the time. And one of the things that’s challenging about that is, we talked about in a different segment, you know, the flesh and the spirit, the only way for you to not be your own little God is to be exposed to other people and to do life on a team and in a community. But what that takes is you stepping outside of the things that you have an illusion of being able to control into challenging circumstances and situations. But in the long run, that’s what you want. But it is tough, it is tough.
Nobody Has it Together
T: Nobody there has it together. Nobody there is anything other than a broken human. Everybody there has a flesh. Their flesh is just as corrupt as yours. Yours is just as corrupt as theirs. Yours isn’t ever going to get better. Theirs isn’t ever going to get better. They have an internal fight going on between the flesh and the spirit, just like you do. If they’re 20 years ahead of you, that’s like from a standpoint of us versus God.The distance between a three-year-old and a 60-year-old is four or five inches. The distance between the wisest human on earth and God is–
T: It’s a trillion miles. And so no matter how much further down the road the most wise person you meet is, they’re still nowhere compared to where God is. And if you just go with the perspective, there are three things we control. One of them is our perspective. You go with the perspective of “I’m going to this group to be stirred up to love and good works. That means I need change and I’m looking for good change. And so what can I contribute to this group?” That’s a good work. “Who can I love and how can I be stirred up to walk more constructively rather than destructively?” And if you go with that basic attitude, you can’t lose, right? Let’s say you run into somebody that’s an absolute idiotic jerk. Well, you can learn what not to do and you can say, you know, I bet I look like that sometimes. Maybe I ought to do some introspection and say, “How can I not do that?” In fact, what I found in life is the people that bother me the most are the people that are most like my flesh. And so I cannot stand arrogant people. They just absolutely drive me crazy. I have to stay away from them. I’m wholly aware that’s because I’m an arrogant person and I just can’t stand that. “Oh, that’s me. I just can’t stand to look at it.” But when that happens, I do acknowledge that that’s me.
T: In my flesh, which is why you’re told to crucify, not to reform. Crucify the flesh. You’re never told to reform the flesh, crucify that walk in the new man.
M: You know, on a personal level, experienced in small group. Patty and I do belong to a small group at our church.
T: Your church that you go to but you don’t go to.
Small Group can be Church
M: Yeah, the physical church we go to that we don’t go to that often. The best thing about it has been belonging to a small group. And one of the things that I struggle with on a personal level is that I travel a lot. And so that makes it hard to build local relationships. I’m on the road a lot. I would say I’ve got a lot of friends–more than most people, I’m really blessed–all over the country. But I don’t get to sit face-to-face with those people very often. And so in the small group when I’m home, we’re there and that’s the place we go. We’ve found our closest friends locally out of that small group. Those are the people we socialize with more than anybody else. We’ve come to know their family because we went to small group and something happened in the last six months in our small group. A couple of things, which is there were some serious traumas in the small group. We have a woman who had pretty serious cancer, who’s fighting cancer right now. We had a woman go that ended up with a really bad marriage. A long time marriage that got really bad, dangerous stuff happening, threats happening. It was really incredible to watch the small group do life together, which is something here. So everybody rallied around the woman with cancer. Can we bring meals? Is there anything we can do? How can we love on this person? And I would not have experienced that if I was not in a small group. And that has been a stirring up for me that is more profound than anything I feel walking into the big building and the big service.
T: So I would say, Biblically, just listening to you talk, your church is actually your small group.
T: That’s where you gather to get stirred up. But your small group is part of a bigger assembly–
T: –that meets kind of like the Jewish festivals. You meet periodically, kind of for national celebration, which is another form of stirring up and a great form of stirring up. You know, in Israel, they had that like twice a year. They have this giant barbecue. It’s like a fair. In fact, one of the tithes in the Old Testament, in the law of the Covenant was you take 10% to the festivals and eat it. You know, you share it with the priest, but then you eat the rest because God wanted you to have a really great time with the first part of the harvest with your fellow people. It was like a carnival, a big festival. That has a place and that’s kind of how you view the big service, let’s call it.
T: And then you go to other big services to connect with your community, that’s the way I would describe what you’re doing.
M: Yeah. I think that that is correct.
T: And what you’re doing, I would say, is you’re kind of migrating into the way church works in the Scripture. But you’re still uncomfortable somewhat with the terminology from the culture.
T: That says you should be faithful to go to this building and attend to this service. And you’re like, “I don’t really want to do that, but I still feel a little tension.”
M: Yeah, yeah. No, I think that’s right.
J: That was the progression for me in my community group. Kylie and I struggled with infertility for five years. When we finally found out we were pregnant, the girls that Kylie is in a group with got a text 2 seconds after we got off the phone with our parents. But for us realizing, like, that’s actually the most fundamental kind of church expression that we’re part of, our community group, our small group. And the thing we do on Sunday morning is great, but it’s an extension of that, not the other way around.
M: Yeah, I think that’s an incredible paradigm shift. You know, you described something when we were talking last night. I think it was your brother and you were saying your brother had friends come into town and he wanted his friends to experience, or somebody in the family, his community, which I would describe the way we’re talking about his church. Right? And they came in and did that. Can you tell that story?
The Foundation of Church
J: It was a podcast that my brother had sent me to. But yeah, it’s one of those frequently asked questions of “What does a home church or a micro church look like?” And I think a lot of times when people think of home churches, they think you’re just doing the same thing in a smaller thing, you know? Who gives a sermon? Who listens to the music? What time do you meet on Sunday? And really for us and what the podcast was saying was like, it’s not like an event, you know? It’s not a once-a-week schedule thing to find out what our church expression looks like you’d have to come stay with us for a month, particularly around someone’s birthday or holiday. But you would have to just see the ways that we like, interact and spontaneously serve people in our community and show up at each other’s houses for dinner and things like that. So the real heart of the church is this intimate community. But there is this value. I have a friend, one of the guys that is in our home church, that we want to go to every church in Brooklyn–
T: To see the formal service
J: To see the formal service and just see the way that people, you know, on a Sunday morning, you just go through all the varieties of it because we’ve got this like, foundation of belonging and of stirring one another up and so everything else is kind of an addition, an extension of that. And so there’s a lot of different ways to do it. But I think in terms of small group, that’s the real essential thing. You know, there’s a reason that Scripture talks so much about family and a family unit. The value of that intimate community where you’re together all the time and you’re sharing life together is where a lot of these things like belonging and expressiveness can happen. And I would add to your question about feeling nervous. I would add this just for new believers and anybody who’s nervous. You need the group but the group also needs you. You have the Spirit of God inside of you. And you need to show up and say like, “Wait a second, this doesn’t make sense to me. I know I’m new and I don’t understand the language. What does the word sanctification mean? You guys have said that six times” because some of them probably don’t know. They need to be stirred up into like, “What is the language that we use that we don’t even realize is, you know, Christianese or whatever.” They need your input, they need your perspective. We have a couple in our group that have kids and when we meet, the kids are there. And the kids– I’m sure you experience this all the time– the kids just say something that’s more profound than anything else anybody else in the group has prepared or thought about. And so we, the church, the body of Christ, the set of believers, we all need one another. So you’re needed in these spaces.
M: Yeah, I agree. It’s pretty interesting. You go in and now that I’ve been in a small group for a while, when somebody new comes in, I know they’re nervous and all that but we’re excited.
M: Like there’s somebody new in, there’s a new perspective. We’re excited to have somebody else to love on. We know they’re going to bring new stuff to the group. I think there’s a perception when you’re the new person that you’re intruding. It’s a very intimate thing. Now you’re the new person. You’re intruding on a bunch of people who are already friends. You don’t really belong. It’s actually entirely the opposite when you come into a new group. Everybody is so jacked up that there’s somebody new coming into this small group.
T: So now I think it’s worthwhile saying that not all groups are constructive.
M: Yeah, I think that’s important.
J: That’s true.
Fruit and False Teachers
T: One of the things that the Bible talks about very consistently–anytime the subject’s addressed–is false teachers. And there’s a number of verses that say you judge them by their fruits. Like you look at a tree that’s an apricot tree or that’s a pear tree. Those verses are, in my study, every single time do not apply to judging whether someone else is really a Christian. Again, we’ve said this. We say this often– to be really a Christian means to accept something that was done for you. Every sin was nailed to the cross. We accept that there’s no performance involved in becoming a part of the family of God. But those fruit inspection verses are always aimed at teachers and who you should listen to. And the point is, don’t listen to somebody that’s not what you want to become. And so the responsibility for making false teaching go away is not with the higher-ups, it’s with us. And if you get in a group and you start looking at the Bible and saying, “They’re not teaching me to serve, they’re actually giving me the example of controlling. And so this is a group where everybody’s trying to control one another.” That’s not good fruit and you should go somewhere else and it’s your responsibility. You have feet, use them and go somewhere else. Or stay and contest. But it’s our job. It’s our job to search the scriptures and say, “Is that really true?” If you’re with a group where everybody’s doing that, you’re going to be fine. If you’re with a group where somebody is being dogmatic that you have to agree with them, not with the Bible but with them, that’s bad fruit. And you don’t want to have any part in that. And it’s our responsibility to make that choice. Yeah, I think that is important. We’ve had that experience as well. Patty was in a women’s small group, it wasn’t healthy. I would argue it wasn’t biblical in the way it was operating, and she left. She said, “You know, there’s nothing there for me.” It wasn’t for her to contest the group was this way. She came in as a new person. And so in a way, it’s like church shopping, right? You go in, just because you visited a small group doesn’t mean it’s your small group. It means you’re visiting and you’re trying to see if this is the right fit for you. Is that teaching good? Is it operating biblically? Do you feel comfortable there? Because then again, at that level, especially, you’re trying to do life well.
T: And you said earlier, do I have a place? Right? Is there a place for me to express my gifts? Are my gifts welcome? You said that in different words earlier.
M: So I think, you know, I’d wrap this up by saying if you’re a new Christian and you hear all this stuff about small group or Wednesday night Bible study or whatever people call it, I would just say you should. This is the faith. This is being a follower of Jesus at the most intimate level, which is interacting with fellow believers on an intimate basis. You get to know them, you know their lives. It’s not always clean, it’s messy. You’re going to see everything that human beings are. But I think it’s the most profoundly impactful part of the practice.