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Small groups that exists for others

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his Letters and Papers from Prison, “The Church is the church only when it exists for others.” In saying this he echoed the sentiments of Church of England bishop William Temple, who once said, “The church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.”

Now before I agree wholeheartedly with them (see the rest of this article), let me state the obvious: These men are not saying that members of a church in no way benefit from their community together. Certainly the fellowship, care, encouragement, and love expressed to fellow followers of Christ are of great value. What these statements are getting at is the purpose for which God has called us to himself and into the communion of his people (“the church”).

All the way back to Genesis 12, God has blessed his people SO THAT they will be a blessing to others – in fact, to all the families of the earth (verses 2-3). This outward-facing mission of God’s people doesn’t change in the New Testament, where we are told to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) and to be a kingdom of priests to declare God’s praises to the world (I Peter 2:9). This is exactly why the mission of Southwood is to “experience and express grace.” If grace is only experienced – if the blessing of God stops with us – then it’s not functioning as grace, and we’re not functioning as God’s people. It has always been designed to pass through us to many others. You could say we are called to be conduits of God’s grace rather than cul-de-sacs. We don’t consume grace; we conduct grace (to others beyond our doors).

Except not in small groups, right? I mean in small groups, that’s the place where we turn inward and only care about the 4 or 8 or 15 of us, right? WRONG! In small groups we ought to be about both the experience AND the expression of grace. In fact, if we’re not, you might wonder how the church would be a church for others outside of giving some money away each year. This means that every small group and every small group member should be concerned not simply about his relationship with God, not simply about his relationship with others in the small group, but additionally about his relationship with his neighbors. In our small groups, we must spur each other on toward this. Which neighbor needs your care? Which family member needs your prayers? Which co-worker needs your time and patience? Which friend needs to hear about Jesus from you?

Small groups can be about others both corporately and individually: As a group, you can serve others together. Individually, you can urge each other toward the importance of your individual relationships with your neighbors. As always, this will look different for every group, but the key for us as leaders is to remember how vital this is. Think about it: Biblically, the church is the church when it exists for others. If Southwood is to be a church that expresses grace to others, our small groups will have to be groups that express grace to others, and our small group members will have to be members who express grace to others. If you don’t know where to start with your group thinking about your relationships with your neighbors, just start here with these assertions and ask them what they think. What will it look like for your group to express God’s grace to others?


Ron | December 05 2013 at 1:06 pm

A thoughtful and encouraging reminder to express the grace we experience!

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Recommended Reading

You'll find most of my recommended books available in the Guest Center at Southwood.

  • You Can Change
    You Can Change
    Tim Chester

    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
    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
    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.

Recommended Listening

  • 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

    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.

Recommended Links

  • Tim Chester: reformed spirituality and missional church
    Tim Chester

    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.