Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Struggle of Unity

Part of my job at Ada Bible Church is to help people find their place in a healthy, life giving small group. We believe small groups are places where people can find community, friendship, and spiritual growth. But from time to time, I run into people who are struggling to find their place. I believe they are good hearted people who really want to make solid connections with others, but they don’t ever seem to have their expectations met. I often wonder if they’re trying to force their small group through too narrow of an experience. Here are some things I’ve heard over the years.

“We really want to be in a group with people whose kids are our kid’s age.”

“I’m a single woman but please don’t put me in a group with married people or in a group with just women.”

“I want to be in a small group with people who all have sailboats.”
“I want to be in a small group with young businessmen.”

“My schedule is packed, so I need to be in a group that can meet on Monday evenings after 9 p.m.”

“I want to be in a group with people who attend the venue I attend, so we can see each other at church. Oh… can they be in our stage of life and live in our neighborhood too?”

Mind you, these are not bad requests and we often work hard to accommodate them. We naturally self-sift to people with whom we have things in common. We like to be with people like us. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, what if God wants more for our community experience? What if God wants us to make deep and meaningful connections with people who are very different from us? What if an important part of our spiritual formation is finding unity and oneness with people we would not naturally drift toward? What if the bond we have with each other is really not found in our age, our gender, our interests, our schedule, our kids, our marital status, or our neighborhood?

Think about how Jesus formed his small group. These dudes were very diverse. Matthew was a former tax collector from Rome. Simon was a Zealot who probably wanted Rome eradicated through military revolt. Think these two guys wanted to go bowling together? Thomas had a tendency to question and doubt. Peter was confident, impetuous, and had a big mouth. Think these two guys had any opportunities to irritate each other? John was a loyal friend to Jesus. Judas was a… “Judas.” Ever wonder if John was sniffing out the traitor in the group? Jesus chose a diverse group of flawed guys to be his disciples. What was their bond? What brought them unity? It was their commitment to follow Jesus.

Paul said to the churches in the Ephesus region, “Make every effort to keep the bond of peace.” I think that statement infers that they would have plenty of opportunities for the opposite—conflict and relational distance. Paul also knew that two very diverse groups were coming together to form the church. One group was raised in the Jewish tradition. They were disciplined, rules oriented, traditional, bent toward being critical. The other group was raised in the Greek tradition. They were liberal, worshipped multiple gods, highly sensual, free spirited. The bond between these two groups was their pursuit of a relationship with their Savior, Jesus Christ.

As you pursue community at Ada Bible Church, realize that hanging out with people who are like you is okay. But God may be calling you toward much more, as he did with his disciples and the Ephesian church. Break out of the self-sift drift. Look around your small group this week and celebrate the diversity. Then, celebrate the one thing you all have in common. The pursuit of Jesus. Our Savior, wants his followers to be one.

This week's author- Phil Niekerk, senior small groups pastor

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