Learn the Secrets of Building Community

Here you will find resources of knowledge to help direct you in the desire for community in your life.  The focus of this blog is to concentrate on practical advice that reveals insights into how human beings were designed to live and function together.  When applied correctly, this information should bring forth a rich and effective experience of community in your life.

When the Church Was a Family

Introduction

Community is your only option if you want to grow significantly spiritually.

But if you live in a radically individualistic culture like I do (America), you have difficulty finding it.  That’s because in my culture, we believe (by our actions) that individuals take precedence over groups.  We believe a personal relationship with God is more important than a community relationship with His family.  OK, we may not believe it in the literal sense of the word, but we behave like it.  After all, doesn’t your behavior tell the story about what you believe?

We’ve been trained to think that focusing on bettering ourselves is what will make us healthy and cause us to grow.  We’re taught that if we don’t get along with others, if we don’t agree with others or if we don’t like others, it’s best to stay away from them for the sake of our “happiness” (we can thank the self-help industry for that one). Ironically, you might feel happy in the short-term from avoiding the pain of dealing with others, but you don’t grow in the long-term.  And this is what life is about in the end, growing into “little Christs.” (Colossians 1:28)

When it comes to making major decisions like marriage, vocation and place of residence; priority is given to personal fulfillment and happiness rather than the honor and health of the groups to which we belong.  It’s no coincidence that we’re paying the price for it.

God designed humans to be collectivists, not individualists.  He designed us to live in and for healthy groups whose well-being takes precedence over any one person’s individual pursuits.  Another bit of irony – it’s also healthiest for the individuals involved.  These types of cultures are the most well-known throughout history, and it’s the type of culture the Church was born into.

The strongest of these groups has always been the family, and this is the type of group the New Testament overwhelmingly teaches us the Church was created to be.  But if the Church is ever going to get back to being one, it won’t come through changing church programs or models.  It will require a systematic change.

The Group Comes First

This issue goes all the way down to the roots of where we find our identity, security and purpose; the foundation of our souls .  If you’re an American, you tend to find them in what you do, who you do it with and where you do it.  These are the things that determine how you think and feel on a daily basis.  They are the measuring sticks for whether or not you’re “successful.”

When these decisions are made individually and in isolation from a community of people, they are overly burdensome for one human being to carry on their own.  Individuals in isolation are continuously questioning and re-considering if they have made the right choices in the major areas of their life.  It’s no wonder the average person in our culture changes jobs 7 times in their career, can’t stay planted in one place for very long and is more than likely to get a divorce.  It’s also no wonder professional psychologists or clergymen have become the default support system for people.

Instead, the nature of humans is to find their identity, security and purpose in the context of the groups they’re a part of.  Instead of prioritizing individual pursuits and then looking for groups that can serve their purpose, humans were built to find their pursuits within the context of serving a group.  Unfortunately, many cultures reflect the former.

Take the Church for example.  In my culture, the Church is a place we go to get our needs met.  If you’re to ask the average American Christian why they attend the Church they do, you will hear answers that are individualistic in nature.  You’ll hear things like “I like the preaching & music” or “they have a good youth group for my kids.”  If we feel like the Church is no longer catering to our needs, we shop for a new one.  Our relational priorities bow their knee to our personal satisfaction.

But as God intended it, the Church is a living organism made up of a family of people.  And just like in a healthy family, an individual’s life is a community responsibility, not an individual one.  The individual is responsible to the group, and the group is responsible to the individual.  I love how the book When the Church Was a Family puts it…

In a strong-group society, the individual perceives himself or herself to be a member of a group and responsible to the group for his or her actions, destiny, career, development and life in general.  The individual person is embedded in the group and is free to do what he or she feels right and necessary only if in accord with group norms and only if the action is in the group’s best interests.  

Family in the New Testament World

Most (if not all) of us would agree to the concept that the Church is meant to function and behave like a family.  But this meant something totally different to the culture of the New Testament where this concept was first put forth than it does to the culture I live in.  In that culture, when someone was forced to choose between the good of their family and their own personal satisfaction, there was no debate.  They knew what was right to do, even if it meant great personal pain.

Your primary allegiance was to those you shared blood with.  Your closest relationships were to your brothers and sisters.  No matter what, you stood by their side.

So when the Church was started and the concept was put forth that those who are in Christ are brothers and sisters of each other, the stakes were much higher than they are today.  It meant that they received your undying loyalty.  It meant that your identity, security and purpose was formed by how you belonged to them.  It meant that your decisions were dependent primarily on how they would be affected.  Yes, you would still consider your personal satisfaction, but it was secondary.

If you want to know why we have such a hard time experiencing true, meaningful, deep and healthy Christian community, look no further than the fact that these types of spiritual brother/sister relationships are essentially non-existent.  They must be restored before we can experience the type of Christian community we need and hope for.

Jesus’ New Group

When Jesus came to earth, his mission went beyond dying on the cross for the sins of the world.  He came to start a new spiritual family that required total priority and allegiance over all else in the world, even your physical family.  This is why he said…

Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  (Matt 10:34-38)

When it came to being a disciple, there was no distinction between loyalty to God and to His family.  A disciple’s priority list doesn’t have God at the top and the Church somewhere tucked under family and work.  Jesus clearly modeled this when he said that his family was not who he shared blood with, but the family of God (Mark 3:31-35).

When a person becomes a Christian, they are supposed to exchange one family for another.  Ideally, the person’s blood family would be or become Christians as well.  In this case, you would now look at your blood family members from a spiritual perspective first.  But if they weren’t Christians, your loyalty would be with the family of God.  This was not an easy decision to make and carry out.  This is why Jesus gave Peter the assurance he did in Mark 10:28-30

Truly I tell you, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.

Jesus was telling Peter that he would be taken care of by his new family.  That’s what family does.

The Churches of Paul

One’s spiritual family is the training ground where discipleship is supposed to take place at the individual level.  It works so well because when you throw a bunch of people together in a family-like context, opportunities naturally present themselves for testing and training.  Just think about your New Testament.  Jew and Gentile Christians were racist against each other, rich and poor Christians separated from one another, males and females had conflict about their roles, and church members who thought they had been wronged were taking others to court (I Cor. 6).

This is why we’re able to read most of the New Testament today.  Leaders in the faith were made aware of circumstances where church family members were being extremely immature and un-Christlike, and they needed to take these opportunities to train them in how to be God’s family.

As you read Paul’s letters, you’re constantly reminded of how we’re first and foremost “brothers” and “sisters” as he deals with all the issues going on in the churches he worked with.  But more importantly, he reminds them of the behaviors that should result from this truth.  They should sacrifice and suffer for one another.  They should cease quarreling and let themselves be wronged.  They should share material resources.  They should not divide over earthly things.  His whole ministry was to bring people into the family of God first, and then get them to act like the family of God.

 

How to Keep Conflict From Ruining Your Small Group

The first thing we must address here is, what kind of small group/Christ-centered community are we talking about?  The kind that meet together once a week or two, discuss topics over coffee and snacks, and whose primary function is for its members to get their “spiritual food” for the week?  If this is the kind you hope for, then I’d recommend this first method for keeping conflict from ruining your small group…

Avoid it

If you want this type of small group to survive, make sure the atmosphere and content of your meetings stays in social space.  What does that mean?  Don’t let the small group’s interaction get too personal/intimate.  Keep it very mechanical.  Come prepared with what to talk about and stick to the program.

Avoid Conflict

Talk about your general thoughts about spiritual topics and the surface-y things about your lives.  Don’t interact outside of the meetings.  If relationships start to develop, make sure you set boundaries that won’t let them progress past a certain point.  Keeping your small group and the people in it a compartmentalized part of your life helps here.

Don’t try and make decisions together by consensus.  Assign a person to direct the group and make decisions for it.  If you disagree with their decisions or the group starts getting too personal/intimate, leave as soon as you can and find another group that won’t go there.  You’re looking for something that aligns more with an individualistic mindset, so leave before conflict arises and your departure is messy.  Your presence is just going to ruin what the group is trying to do.

Although you can probably sense a bit of sarcasm in what I’m saying here, it really IS good advice.  For many people, they really don’t desire close-knit Christ-centered community where your purpose and lives become intertwined over time.  They want more of a social club – a place to go to feed the social/spiritual compartment of their lives at regular intervals.  Or they want an emotional club – a place to go while people listen to them unload the emotions they feel.

If this is the case, the best thing we can do together is recognize it and react accordingly.  I would never tell a Christian who was serious about growing in Christ to avoid conflict, keep things at a social level and leave if relationships started growing.  But for some, this is what they want their “Christian life” to be.  If that’s the case, it’s best to just avoid small groups where this isn’t the case.

But, if what you hope for is something that will grow into Christ-centered community, then…

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Small Group Decision-making: The Essential Concept You’ve Probably Never Been Taught

Summary:  Majority-rule isn’t of the Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom operates by consensus.  

When you try to operate within a small group setting, you’re at a tremendous disadvantage.  You’re an American.Consensus 1

Now the reason that’s a disadvantage has nothing to do with nationality or politics, but everything to do with culture and mindsets.  When it comes to decision-making, you were trained to think about yourself first and foremost (you gotta do what makes you happy!); and that the majority should rule (whoever gets the most votes wins).

Now you may be thinking that individualism is more the result of sin and not your culture, and you may have a point there.  But there’s no doubt that your culture provides more of an opportunity to be an individualist than most throughout history; and most of us are influenced by that opportunity.

You’ve also grown up in a governing system that operates by majority rule.  The concept is…instead of working to come to one heart and mind on a matter, we’ll just take a vote and whichever perspective more people agree with, we’ll go with that one.  While this method is certainly easier at first, it’s not the case in the long run.

The Kingdom of God is not a democracy

It’s a kingdom.  I mean…it’s in the name!

In a kingdom, the King’s vote is all that matters.  In a righteous kingdom, a righteous King makes decisions based on what’s best for the citizens of the kingdom.  Righteous citizens listen for the decrees of the king and carry out his business in an effort to care for and grow the kingdom; not do what’s best for themselves.  So, the task of the citizens is to listen for the king’s voice on each matter and then carry out his business.

When it comes to organic-kingdom-community small groups, laying hold of the King’s wishes comes about through the decision-making principle of CONSENSUS.

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The Serial Killer of Organic Church & Small Group Meetings Everywhere

Summary:  Monologues have killed organic church meetings everywhere.  Those that like to give them are in every small group.  They are hard to stop because many don’t know they’re killers, don’t know they’re happening, or don’t know how to stop them.  These groups may have a chance to survive if they are eliminated from most of the meetings.

Talk Too Much

Countless Christians join organic churches and small groups in anticipation and excitement for how they’ll impact their experience of the Christian life.  In a culture like ours with such extreme isolation, they offer a refuge for people to have some semblance of Christian community in their lives.  They start attending with hope that their experience might mirror what they’ve heard and read about.  That they can experience the church as a family and not just a club they attend at specific times on specific days.  That Christ can truly be the Head of His Church and not just the subject of conversations and meetings.

But for the most part, the typical small group is short-lived.  Or if it does last past, say 6 months to a year, it lacks depth.  Because we’re bad at them.  Like REALLY BAD.  We don’t really know what we’re doing, and that includes those that are considered leaders.

Here we’re going to cover one such reason.  While it’s not the only killer of organic and small groups, this particular thing is in ALL of them and may be the top reason they die if allowed to be present for a considerable amount of time.

That serial killer is MONOLOGUES.

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22 Synergistic Techniques for Facilitating Successful Small Groups

In the last post, we learned that good facilitators (leaders) love and respect people as they are.  They don’t treat them like things to be fixed.  Because of this, you won’t catch them constantly talking and giving advice.  You’ll catch them asking questions and listening most of the time.

MAD SCIENTISTFacilitating a group is not a mechanical process.  Their aren’t X number of steps that if followed will lead to success.  It’s a craft that takes skill and practice.  You’re working with a living, breathing organism.  Facilitation must therefore follow along the life of the organism and make adjustments and interventions on the fly.

Like a scientist, a facilitator comes prepared with the right techniques that will allow them to guide the process of the creation of the group’s life together.  These techniques are the ingredients that have been known to be fruitful in guiding groups into their purpose.  They’re all designed and encouraged to be at the disposal of the facilitator when appropriate.  Here are some of them…

Tap the energy of the group

A group is its own entity, uniquely distinct from the individuals that make it up.  A good facilitator must be skilled at discerning the difference between individual wants and suggestions and what the group as a whole wants and suggests.  They will help the group find where consensus lies between them.

Follow the resources of the group

A group’s purpose will align with the resources at their disposal.  A good facilitator helps groups see their resources and how they can effectively use them to achieve their purpose.

Don’t show favoritism

Treat everyone as equally valuable and capable group members.  A good facilitator makes sure everyone is committed and involved with the group achieving its purpose.

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