In 15 years of membership at Clear Creek Community Church, I have been part of so many small groups I had to check with my husband and a friend to count them all up. When I look back at my experience with small group, I can recall so many good things: deep friendships, laughter and tears, friends that became family, and a slow sharpening of my walk with God.
Other important things have come from these years too, primarily having to do with growth in my love for the Bible and my understanding of God. And how I have needed and still need those!
But the absolute best part of small group for me has always been the gift of being known.
For some reason I am that person who will dive in deep during the first meetings and tell everyone my greatest, heart-wrenching prayer requests. I love to share the story of how God saved me and how he’s been working in me the past few decades. And I always want to know everyone else’s story, too. That part of small group where we all share our stories is my jam.
But I wasn’t always like this. I grew up quite shy. But, during my college years, I distinctly remember telling a not-so-close friend about some burdens of my past. We swapped stories for hours, and afterward I felt such a great release. Here was one more person in the world who really knew me, and that was freeing.
In her book The Life You Long For, singer-songwriter Christy Nockels writes, “I’ve found that you can’t live abundantly in your God-given capacity as the Beloved [of God] without first being in true community with others” (109). This is an amazing truth about our God: we see his love for us most vividly as we walk alongside others who love him.
There’s something special about a group of people with whom you know you share one singularly important commonality. You feel freer to speak God’s truth to one another. You feel more enabled to share your neighbor’s hurt. And you feel more at ease saying, “me too.”
In Philippians 2, Paul encourages the brothers and sisters of the faith to be of “one mind” and to “look not only to [their] own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Certainly there is an aspect of this that is meeting one another’s physical needs, but I believe this also means we should be interested in one another. We should be shouldering burdens and helping our siblings in Christ continue to follow him with perseverance.
Listen, small group is not a perfect community. Tensions happen. We’re all sinners, so you’ll likely be hurt and hurt others as well. It’s possible you’re reading this right now thinking you’ve been hurt too much by other believers to ever truly be open in a small group.
I’ve found that you can’t live abundantly in your God-given capacity as the Beloved [of God] without first being in true community with others.
– Christy Nockels
From perceived slights to deep wounds, vulnerability can be difficult when we come to community hurting. But be encouraged that God can use this pain. He is the champion of using our human weaknesses to display his glory.
There is so much more beauty to be grasped when we allow ourselves to be known. Think for a moment on the wonderful truth that God shows himself to us in such a variety of ways, including through the love and acceptance of other people. I have found that when I open up to others, I open up to God much more readily. Community is the place where God primes the pump to show us more of his great love for us.
When I choose to share my burdens and pursue really knowing the people in my small group, I open up more avenues for God to speak to me. When I receive acceptance, guidance, and even correction from my brothers and sisters in Christ, I feel known. In turn, the reality of God’s acceptance of me in Christ rains down even more thunderously. The gift of being known by others turns into the gift of being known by God himself — a prize above all others.
As you set off to join a new small group this fall, or more deeply engage with the one you’re already part of, I encourage you to open up and be a bit more vulnerable with this family God has provided. Don’t miss the transformative power God offers us through community.