Forgive me. I am guilty of thinking that small groups are the answer for most if not all of church woes. But I am starting to see that small groups is not a one-size-fits all solution.
Statistics indicate that few churches ever get more than a 30-35% participation rate in small groups. Some might think of this as a failure. But Joseph Myers in his book, The Search to Belong, indicates that many church leaders have wrongly assumed that small groups are the answer for most fringe Christians. Instead, he indicates that how people belong and grow is much more complex than many people realize. His book is a practical look at the issues behind building community in a culture that increasingly values belonging over believing.
Here are some of the things that I took from Joseph’s book.
There are very few people who realize what God would make of them if they abandoned themselves into his hands, and let themselves be formed by his grace. I ask for the grace to trust myself totally to God’s love. -St. Ignatius
It can be hard to trust people who we do see. It can be even harder to trust a God that we cannot see face-to-face. Scripture tell us that without faith it is impossible to please God. We must believe that God exists and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him.
Faith and trust are intertwined. I don’t know why I find it so easy to trust myself and so hard to really trust God. I know my failures and inabilities. And I claim to believe in God’s awesome power and love. Seeking to truly believe what I know to be true is one of the hardest aspects of the Christian life. Faith is truly a gift from God. We cannot muster enough courage on our own to really abandon all into God’s hands.
That is why the first steps of faith must begin with prayer and surrender. God will do the rest.
In America, we encourage people to be self sufficient, self starters and self reliant. The problem with this is the first word in those concepts is “self.” The Christian life is all about Jesus and not self. We can’t even live the Christian life if we are the ones trying to do it.
Watchman Nee once wrote, “The life of many Christians today is largely a pretense. They live a ‘spiritual’ life talk a ‘spiritual’ language and adopt ‘spiritual’ attitudes, but they are doing the whole thing themselves. It is the effort involved that should reveal to them that something is wrong.”
Nee led an underground church movment in China starting in the 1930s. He spent a long time in prison for his faith. And he has written some of the deepest spiritual teachings in print today.
Nee called Christians back to Jesus as the one who gives us the power to live as God intended. Jesus said that our righteousness has to exceed that of the Pharisees. He set the bar extremely high just for us to realize that we can never please God by our own efforts. Holiness is attainable though for those who are in Christ.
Nee also wrote, “God does not demand what He will not perform, but we must throw ourselves back on Him for the performance.”
Going beyond being a Christian, everyday tasks necessary for survival require the assistance of others. None of us are really self sufficient for our daily lives. We all really on the sun for life.
In most industrialized worlds, we pay money for food, water, clothing and shelter. We generally don’t make, grow, build or gather any of these things ourselves.
The hardest thing about being a Christian is dying to my own self.
Sometimes I think that my life would be better and more pleasing to God if I just went away. I am talking about selling my house, moving to a poorer part of the world and living a minimalist life. This has a real attraction to people who become disillusioned with more when they find it meaning less and less each day. And while a change of setting may help spark some deep changes within me, a new address is not the real answer. My real problem is not where I live.
My real problem is the idolatry and soulish desires within me. These cannot be fixed my a mere chagne in location. No, these aspects of my life can only be transformed by a deep change within me. At the foot of the cross I will find deliverance from me for me.
The real answer is not to run from suburbia. Instead, God wants to redeem my heart while living in suburbia, a place that desperately needs the Good News found in Jesus alone. God is calling me to live intentionally in suburbia as a vibrant example of Christ’s light and love.
The more I travel the world, the more I sense my place at home in the USA. I especially desire to see those who “have it all” and are still hungry to find God’s best. That is why my next book hits on the topic of spiritual hunger. It should be out soon. I will release more information when it is available. Called Starving for Hunger, this new book hits on the deeper spiritual hunger within society today. And it points the way to Jesus as the source for what we all want most.
Dave Goetz, author of Death by Suburb, recently wrote, “I think to stay in the burbs and to thrive spiritually requires a continual mending of your life. It seems cliche to say, ‘You must be intentional,’ but there’s no other way to really say it.”
The key is more of God and less stuff, noise and distraction. Silence, meditation and to simply enjoy being in relationship with God are the paths to freedom and fulfillment.
Safety and comfort are two of the key selling points for any good suburban community. While these may appear to be two very good things at first, there are some unforseen dangers associated with being too comfortable or too safe.
Consider the following quote by Mike Erre in Youth Worker Journal, “Jesus is not vitally committed to our comfort and safety. He is committed to the advancing of His kingdom revolution in the hearts of people everywhere.”
Wow! Mike, the author of The Jesus of Suburbia, hit on a big issue many of us in the American Church want to ignore. We serve a wild and dangerous God who is not overly concerned with risk management compared to spiritual growth and extending freedom to those bound by sin and death.
The values of America’s materialism has creeped into the American Church and caused us to lose our effectiveness. The USA is one of the largest mission fields in the world. North America is the only continent where Christianity is not growing. Do we have too much? Are we too safe? Do our gated communities and perfectly manicured laws actually hide deep needs and insecurities?
The more that I look closely at what I see, the more I think that suburbia may be robbing us of God’s best. By trying to go after the American dream are we actually losing out on heavenly treasures?
Erre wrote, “We love the illusion of danger but not the real thing. We want Jesus to be the same way: all reward, no risk. We don’t give ourselves fully to Him because we are afraid He will send us to China or ask us to become poor. We want the illusion of faith, as long as we are safe. But walking with God is not a no-risk proposition; it is one of the most dangerous things you can do. Risk is inherent in the life of faith.”
The answer is not to burn everything and live in a cardboard box. No, the answer is to abandon everything we have into the hands of God. The solution to death by suburbia lies in trusting God with everything and being willing to follow wherever He leads.
Pastor Carter spoke on discontentment the other day. He hit on a key issue for many people who grew up in the land of plenty. I can relate. One reason that I stopped having cable TV was that I was tired of always being told what I needed. The latest kitchen gadget never brings eternal happiness like the guy in the infomercial said.
Affluence has made us a people known for our appetites. The problem is that desire can breed discontentment where nothing is every good enough. Left unchecked, this attitude can cause us to become nothing more than appetite. Satan loves to keep us chasing the next thing. All it leads to is ever increasing appetite and constantly decreasing satisfaction.
Dissatisfaction can be a good motivating force. The real question is, “What we are seeking, is it a God thing or a me thing?”
Pastor Carter said, “Your sin creates your theology.” He gave the example of a disgruntle employee who steals two hours a day playing Solitare because he doesn’t feel he is paid enough. This person is seeking to get justice as he defines it. The person is discontent he then seeks to make things right by taking a little extra time off during the work day. This is just one example where discontentment creates a situation where a person sins to counteract the perceived injustice.
How can we know if we are discontent? Pastor Carter challenged the fellowship to look at their words. Do you talk about something or someone as if you are never satisfied and things are always bad? Do you look around and always want what the other person has? You may have caught the discontentment bug. A jealous strain of affluenza tends to be the cause.
When we are discontent, we are in essence saying to God, “What you have given me is not enough. You aren’t doing your job right.” While we are free to be honest with God about our feelings, we must remember that murmuring is not the answer. As a Christian, we have to come to the point that we realize we have signed away our rights. We are bound to God’s direction and will.
Christians should take a lesson from the Apostle Paul. He wrote, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
Have you had enough?