Wednesday, July 29, 2015
A grassy field, a bandana, and a partner. That’s all you need to compete in the three-legged race. It has likely been a while since most of us ran, stumbled, and limped toward the finish line in this event, but the three-legged race still seems to show up at nearly every Field Day in town. Like most races, the goal is to be the first one to cross the finish line; however, in this unique event you have to cross alongside your partner, having run in sync with your legs bound together near the ankle.
The three-legged race is a good analogy for what God has called us to at Southwood. God has given us a mission to experience and express grace – that is, while deepening our relationships with Him, we are to be about seeing the good news of Jesus transform our neighborhoods, cultures, workplaces, friendships, city, and world. We offer the hurting and hopeless the hope of Jesus. We pray and work to see Huntsville flourish. We bring the light of Christ into the darkness of racism, poverty, and systemic abuse. We’re going somewhere, moving outward, seeking to make a difference – not merely to “play church.”
I trust you’re excited about the mission God has given us. I also understand that you might be confused when you hear that small groups is the place to start such a mission. It may seem counter-intuitive. Get in a small group? Don’t we need to be moving outward, not turning inward? Don’t we need to be running as fast as we can to reach our goals? Absolutely, we need to be on mission now, and we need to be on mission together. This is a community project, which is where the three-legged race comes in.
Everybody Grab a Partner: Relationships with Each Other
One thing I know you can’t do is win a three-legged race on your own; it absolutely requires a partner. You’ve got to get together and talk about how you’re going to run the race, you’ve got to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, you’ve got to plan which foot you’re going to step with first.
I’ll explain in a minute why I believe this is equally vital for the mission of the Church, but it is exactly where we begin with small groups. Southwood small groups focus on three key relationships, and the first of those is our relationships with each other. This is where we connect as God’s people – sharing meals together, visiting each other in the hospital, investing in each other’s kids, learning to become real friends.
In other words, we start the race by connecting to each other, learning each other’s stories, sharing a variety of aspects of our lives with each other, and praying and planning with each other about why God has placed us here and put us together. It’s stage one of the mission to which God has called us because He hasn’t called us to this mission alone. Instead, in his great kindness, He has called us to be a part of a new community that is connected to each other by Him and moving to include others for the sake of his kingdom.
Locking Arms (or Legs): Relationships with God
If you have ever run in a three-legged race, you know the key to the whole race happens before you start moving: getting tied tightly together. If the knot is too loose, you will struggle to move in unison once the race begins. The more the bandana unites two legs into one, the better the chance you have to move quickly to the finish line together.
In the Church our bond, of course, is Jesus Christ. He unites otherwise different and disconnected people into one body and one family because through Jesus we are adopted by our Heavenly Father. Thus, our relationships with God are vital to our common mission. It is this relationship with our Father that is the second key relationship in small groups, where we consider his truth together. As we get to know each other more and share more of life with each other, we also have opportunity to discuss where God’s Word intersects with the joys and challenges of life. We learn more of his grace together, we help each other wrestle through seeking his will for our lives, and we help each other depend on Him in life’s hard places. Tied tightly together because of Jesus, we are ready to run on his mission.
Running the Race: Relationships with Our Neighbors
I hope this goes without saying, but you’ll never get a ribbon in the three-legged race if you stand at the starting line getting to know your partner, planning your strategy, and fretting over the tightness of the knot. Those things are important in themselves, but they also serve a larger purpose: enabling you to run the race to the best of your ability.
The race or mission God has given us as his people is to partner with him as He transforms Huntsville and beyond through the good news of Jesus. We want our neighbors and friends to know Jesus personally, we want our workplaces, neighborhoods, and relationships to be full of his grace, and we want our city to reflect the beauty, diversity, and justice of his kingdom.
This is no small task, and it’s one none of us is capable of on our own, which is why God has called us together into his Church. Imagine trying to run a Jobs for Life program on your own. Even if you worked full-time at it, you could never relationally engage with the number of students that you could with the church united together behind it. Can you single-handedly address the issues of ingrained racism, generational poverty, and systemic injustice even in your own local school? No way! Even if you decided to be a foreign missionary, you would need a support system of prayer and financial help.
And so God has given us each other. If you want to be a part of exciting things like these happening at Southwood and in Huntsville, start with joining a small group. It sets you up for being a part of a team rather than an individual hero. It connects you to others who share your need for God’s grace and your passion to see others impacted by his grace, too.
As we move outward on a mission to develop this third key small group relationship – our relationships with our neighbors – the beautiful thing is that what we are offering people is the first two relationships we started with. What we are seeking to do is to introduce them to the God we have been getting to know more deeply and to invite them into a community that welcomes and cares for broken and hurting people the way God has welcomed and cared for us. The honest, safe, and life-giving relationships we have developed with each other is exactly what our fractured, lonely world needs. And the gracious, compassionate, and forgiving God we know is exactly who our broken, sinful world needs. We need our relationships with each other and with God, and so do our neighbors. We introduce them to Him and invite them into our “family.”
Getting Back Up: Imperfect Small Groups
One last thought about three-legged races: they’re often not a thing of beauty. There’s the occasional pair that runs as though they’ve been practicing together for years, but there are usually more pairs tripping over each other and falling to the ground.
Merely being in a small group doesn’t make relationships and being a part of God’s mission easy. Sometimes it’s harder to run while your leg is tied to someone else’s, and sometimes it feels harder to be on mission together with a small group than to go do something by yourself. Relationships are just messy. The beauty of our relationships with each other, though, is that when we fall, we’re there to pick each other up and encourage each other to carry on with the mission God has given us.
Do you want to do big things for God? Start small. Grab a partner (or several), lock arms in Christ, and then run together where He has called you.
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You'll find most of my recommended books available in the Guest Center at Southwood.
You Can Change
How do we mortify sin? How do we address the sin in our lives that reignite like a trick birthday candle we thought we had already blown out of our lives? This is a careful and thoroughly theological book that is hopeful without avoiding honesty. It is practical without being legalistic. It gets to the root of the sinful areas of our lives without offering a prescriptive regimen to hide behind avoiding the grace that has the only true power to teach “us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” Titus 2:11-14
Relationships: A Mess Worth Making
Timothy Lane & Paul Tripp
Small groups would be easy if weren’t for the people in the group! This book will help equip you to see your own sin first and provide the courage and humility to address it in others.
The Heart of a Servant Leader
This is a collection of letters written by Jack Miller to people experiencing real-life concerns and struggles. Through these gracious and honest letters you will learn how to humbly offer to others (and yourself!) hope, repentance, and courage that flows from the truth of the gospel of grace. Though this isn’t a “how to” book full of nifty steps to Your Best Gospel Life Now. It’s a glimpse into the heart of a person who has found food at the Cross, and you watch (and learn) as he humbly points others to the feast.
Comforts From The Cross
Elyse M. Fitzpatrick
This 31 day devotional will bring you to the foot of the cross to remember and celebrate the truth of the gospel of grace, and develop skills that will help “inform, free, gladden, and enliven your soul every day.” Becoming proficient in applying the Gospel of grace to our own hearts is a key skill that is well worth our effort to develop.
- Christ PCA - Nashville
Scott Sauls and CPC Staff
Listen to sermons from Senior Pastor Scott Sauls and other CPC pastors at a sister church.
- Lookout Mountain PCA
Joe Novenson and LMPC Staff
Check out sermons by Senior Pastor Joe Novenson and other LMPC pastors at a sister church.
- Steve Brown Etc.
Steve Brown’s unique blend of orthodoxy and controversy, humor and profundity, and a refusal to play religious games will give you permission you have needed to stop being so uptight. And even if it’s for 30 minutes, you just might experience radical freedom, infectious joy and maybe even a bit of surprising faithfulness.
- Tim Chester: reformed spirituality and missional church
Tim has an incredible way of applying the Gospel of grace that is both practical and honest with a consistent skillful affinity to point us to Jesus. He is director of The Porterbrook Institute; a church planter with The Crowded House in Sheffield, UK; and the author of over a dozen books including Total Church and You Can Change.
- Of First Importance
Living Each Day in the Good of The Gospel
Here you will find a growing collection of gospel-centered quotes to help reorient your thoughts toward the splendor and grandeur of the person and work of Jesus.