Warning! What Nobody Tells You About Joining A Small Group

Summary:  If you expect the people in your group to be “normal,” you’re in for a big surprise.  If you hope to build close-knit community with others Christians, you have to bring a different expectation.  You have to expect that everyone is fatally flawed, and that those flaws will negatively affect you at some point.  How you handle this will make all the difference.

Nobody’s normal.

This may be the single biggest revelation a person needs to have in order to survive long-term in Kingdom community (after a revelation of Christ of course).

The Tension

Our major pursuit is to be close to people.  It’s why we meet people, get married, join churches, etc.

But there’s a rub.  We want to accomplish this without getting hurt.

In his book Everybody’s Normal Till You Get To Know Them, John Ortberg relates us to porcupines because they have 2 methods for handling relationships: withdrawal and attack.  They’re very solitary animals.  If you get too close to them and they feel threatened; they’ll either run away or shoot their sharp quills at you.  These two reactions are at the heart of sin.  They both demonstrate a lack of love.

But every once in a while, porcupines are motivated to become friends (mating season!).  Although they hardly ever do it, they are actually able to pull in their quills and learn to dance with another porcupine.

Although they’re covered in quills, a Christian’s motivation comes from the Agape Love that’s been poured out in their hearts.  They can learn to dance together in community and express the Agape Love within them.

The Expectation

Anything that involves life always involves a growth process.  Babies don’t pop out as adults, the seeds you plant in your garden don’t bear fruit for months, and Christian community doesn’t feel like a family, tribe or clan (like the rumors say) from the start.  I don’t know, maybe we’ve been conditioned to expect that it will be this way by our fast food, on-demand culture.  Maybe it’s trained us mentally to expect to experience the fruits of our labor right now without going through any of the process that’s necessary to get there.

Whatever it is, if the hope of a group of people is to express authentic close-knit organic Kingdom community long-term, they must abandon the expectation that everything will be coming up roses as soon as they start meeting together.  While there certainly will be many good things about it at the start (feelings of purpose and comradery), it should be no surprise when people’s issues start being exposed as time passes.  We must expect to go through the cross to get to the resurrection.

The Illusion

But unfortunately, it seems that all too often people ARE surprised.

This is an illusion.  It’s the illusion that normal people exist.  When we have social interactions and surface conversations, it sure can seem that way.  When people first start meeting together, it’s natural that we’re more guarded.  Just like when two people are dating, most people are focused on putting their best foot forward.  There’s really nothing wrong with this.  It’s totally natural.  Again, it’s a process.

People can be extremely good at hiding issues.  But just like the illusion of water in desert, the closer you get, the clearer the situation becomes.  The key is to not to buy into the illusion that the cross isn’t coming.

The Revelation

Everybody has an “old man” they’re battling with, and when you get close to them, it’s going to come out someway somehow.  You’re now going to have to battle with it.  And they’re going to have to battle with yours alongside you as well.

Long-term Kingdom community success requires a revelation by its members.  It’s the revelation that humans are depraved.  They have flaws.  This revelation isn’t your typical “Yes, I know all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  It’s the revelation that the specific people you plan on being with or are currently with are really messed up people.  Sure, they’re good people by the world’s standards.  To go a step further, they’re spiritually precious saints of God who are holy and pure.  But that’s not the only part of them you’re dealing with.  Like our Lord said, there is only One who is Good.

It may take you a while to find the flaws, or you may notice some quickly (more likely!).  But if you truly create an environment of Kingdom community with others, everyone’s depravity sees the light at one time or another.

Think about Peter.  He lived with the Lord of the universe in the flesh for 3 years, seeing miracle upon miracle.  At the most important time in the life and ministry of Jesus, what did he do?  Peter denied Him.  Once would be bad.  But 3 times?!?!

After investing his life into Peter, Jesus encountered a major flaw in him.  He was a people-pleaser.  As Ortberg also points out…

We are predisposed to do wrong when the conditions are right.

The conditions were right for Peter to expose this flaw in himself, and he did just that.  The conditions are going to be right at some point for everyone in your group.  It’s just a matter of time.

The Reaction

In those moments, it’s the way the members of a community respond to each other that makes the difference.  I’m going to amplify a bit what the apostle Paul says to the believers in the Galatian churches (Galatians 6:1-3) when they were dealing with all sorts of sin issues in their community…

If someone is caught in a sin, be gentle with them.  Have a humble attitude while you do it, because you have your own issues they have to put up with.  And you are not immune.  After you correct them, who knows, they could be correcting you tomorrow.  The job of the community is to carry one another burdens.  It’s a mutual thing.  This is how you fulfill the law of Christ, which is Love.  This is what Love is in action.  Don’t be deceived.  You are no better than them.  It’s their issue today, and your issue tomorrow.  So don’t try to fix them or control them, but walk alongside them as a teammate as you work together toward the same purpose; growth in Christ.

The Connection

In the end, the choice is between bouncing around in continuous isolation or fighting through your issues together.  Sure, you have to put up with some pretty ugly stuff, both yours and theirs.  But community is to the soul what food, air and water are to the body.  We’re communal beings that have an innate need to be a part of something bigger than ourselves that matters; and God’s ultimate purpose is to have a communal bride to marry (Revelation 21).  But in order to bring her forth, we’ve got to fight to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace, even when we get shot with the quills of our brothers and sisters.

The Solution

In the world, people love those who love them (Luke 6:32).  But, this isn’t special.  It’s not what makes the Kingdom the Kingdom.  It’s the bearing with each other and the bearing of one another’s burdens in Agape Love that marks a Kingdom community.

Your job isn’t to fix and/or control people, but to create a Kingdom environment where you relate and operate with each other by Kingdom principles (please learn what those are, for they are not taught much).  Those issues that you’re so concerned about?  Trust the Holy Spirit.  If you create the right environment (read more of this blog to learn what that is), He will do His part as Teacher, Helper, etc. (John 14:26).  People will start growing because He will be working in and through each member to cause it to grow (Col. 2:19).

It will be a mystery to you because you won’t really know how it happens, and you’ll learn that it’s never been about HOW, but about WHO.

Jesus’ new commandment was that we’d love one another as He loved us (John 13:34-35).  So every time the quills shoot out, whether they’re yours or somebody else’s, remember Peter.

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2 Responses to “Warning! What Nobody Tells You About Joining A Small Group”

  1. Timothy

    Hi Michael, found your blog through DCL Network and been reading through a lot of your posts. One thing I have noticed lately in my church and just with Christians in general, is that we want community, but it seems like we are looking for people that we have a lot in common with so that the relationships will work and be fun and beneficial to us. Example: We want to find other young couples, couples with kids, people who enjoy the same hobbies, people we don’t find annoying and people who think like us. In college I was part of a community of Young Life leaders and we were all very different and came from different background, but we were for the most part focused on Christ and reaching high school kids with Christ and that was our goal and focus. A lot of other things have lead me to think about these things, but this is just an example. In response to this, my wife and I are trying desperately to find people who have a heart for Jesus…period. We are trying to look past annoying or if they are people we would normally like to hand out with or not, if they are younger or older etc. Basically we are looking for people who are willing to go deeper into Christ with us and are willing to sacrifice for it and work through differences. Look forward to reading some more of your posts. My wife and I currently reside in Wadsworth, ohio – I noticed you are in Canton.

    • Michael

      Hi Tim,

      First, your observation is very astute. It’s pretty apparent in our culture that we tend to serve the idols of comfort and convenience. One of the natural outflows of that is we end up relationally dividing on the basis of many different characteristics – like age, marital status, race, social class, etc. What’s odd about this is that it undermines the very nature of the Kingdom, in which these distinctions are abolished.

      The unity that the Church expresses across all of these worldly divisive characteristics is supposed to be one of the most prominent signs to the world that a new Kingdom has come. Yet, instead of integrating every race, age, etc. into operating as One New Man, we segment them into special groups so people feel more comfortable.

      I think you’ve hit on one of the reasons most Christians in our culture aren’t growing into maturity.

      Second, I’m thrilled that you found me through the DCL Network! Really cool. I’ll send you an email to talk about connecting in person since you’re right up the road.