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3 Threats to the Mission of Small Groups

Common Sins

There are some common sins that keep us from living missional lives. As a pastor over community groups, the three I see that cripple the mission the most are apathy, indifference, and fear of man.

Apathy

One of the most insidious sins of the church today is apathy. It is a passive sin of omission and therefore it doesn’t get much press. But it is a silent killer of passion and is the antithesis to the gospel. Apathy is indifference to sin and its destruction in our lives and in the lives of others. It is an unholy contentment with the status quo. You might say apathy is the intentional closing of our eyes to the carnage on the battlefield.

John Owen said, “Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.”1 Apathy toward sin is suicide. Peter tells us that sin is waging war against our souls. As a pastor, I have personally seen the devastation caused by porn, infidelity, divorce, greed, and other forms of idolatry. Are you seeing the destruction of sin in your community? If you don’t see it, open your eyes.

Scripture says that Satan prowls around like a lion waiting to devour believers.2 Jesus teaches us that Satan is active and fighting against the expansion of the gospel.3 Paul describes Satan as scheming, setting traps, and looking for footholds to thwart gospel transformation in our lives.4 I guarantee that our enemy is not apathetic to the battle. People are getting slaughtered all around us, inside and outside the church. Pastors are disqualifying themselves, wives are leaving their husbands, and husbands are coveting two-dimensional women. We medicate with drugs, entertainment, and sex—and so it goes, on and on down a path of destruction.

Instead of killing sin, we often try to manage it. We manage things that we don’t believe are dangerous. A new puppy is cute but mildly destructive. In order to protect our home, we relegate the young rogue to the washroom and garage where we can manage the amount of damage he can do. We are resigned to the fact that we may lose a sneaker or two, but we have it under control and can make adjustments as the puppy grows.

This is how many of us see sin, as a mischievous puppy to be managed, as if we can control it with a firm tone. The problem is that sin is not a puppy but a small fire. Spurgeon posits that managing sin is like setting a small fire and attempting to control it with the sound of your voice.5 Sin that is not destroyed will set the whole house on fire. Apathy diminishes our view of sin and sets us up for an inferno. And if we are engulfed by sin, we will spend the war in the MASH tent rather than on the battlefield.

Community

Brad House

This guide for churches brings wisdom and practical insight into growing a gospel-centered, small-group ministry. With wisdom and candor, House helps churches think carefully about the state of their own small groups. 

Such apathy debilitates community. But we don’t have to live this way. The old has passed away. We are new creations in Christ, set free from sin and free to worship Jesus in spirit and in truth. We can walk in transparency with one another because our identity is secure in Christ and our sin has been crushed on the cross.

Indifference

Finding our identity in Christ is essential because when we become apathetic to sin in our lives, it not only destroys us individually, but it also destroys our witness to the world. When the church fails to address sin, it is hard to argue for the transforming power of the gospel. But here is the cunning of apathy: we may not even care.

How is it that we drive by our neighbors to and from work every day and never consider how we might make the appeal for them to be reconciled to God? Surely we believe that Jesus is “the way, and the truth, and the life,” and that through him and him alone can we be reconciled to the Father.6If we possess the good news and we acknowledge that the only alternative is eternal destruction,7 then how is it that we have little passion for sharing the gospel?

How many people have given their lives to Christ within your community group this year? How many nonbelievers have participated in community with your group? If the answer is none (as it usually is when I ask these questions), then doesn’t the evidence indict us of being indifferent toward the mission of God? We need an urgency for the gospel.

Indifference is often a symptom of the love of life. As John writes, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”8When we are more consumed with our stuff and our comfort than the advancement of the kingdom, we have chosen to keep our eyes closed. Scripture uses the images of war and harvest for participation in Jesus’s mission.9War requires us to put our lives on the line. Harvest requires us to get dirty and work. Neither is comfortable. Neither is easy.

We cannot hang on to temporal things and make a kingdom impact. We cannot serve two masters. We must hold our lives and their comforts in an open hand for the service of our king.

God has chosen you and your community to be the message bearers, and the consequences are eternal. This may seem daunting because we have become accustomed to letting the leaders of the church do all the heavy lifting. Imagine your pastor harvesting a field. Picture him swinging a sickle as sweat beads up on his brow. He loves Jesus and is determined to harvest the crops of his Father. As you look closer, you notice that he is straining harder than he ought because he is dragging a wagon behind him. In the wagon is the rest of the church. Instead of helping, they are watching from the wagon. This is the picture I often see in the church. Pastors are breaking their backs for the mission of God while we sit back and watch.

But imagine for a moment if we all got out of the wagon and grabbed a sickle. Imagine what we could accomplish for the kingdom if we joined in the work together. Could you transform your town or city? Could you impact a generation?

The good news is that the crops are ready to be harvested. If we can lead our community groups to turn from indifference, then we will find that the fields are ripe for the harvest.10Jesus encourages us that he has already prepared them. He is just looking for workers who are willing to get dirty. Jesus came to save sinners,11and he has chosen us to make the appeal to the world. If we repent of our indifference, we can experience the joy of being a part of accomplishing his plan of reconciliation.

Repentance here starts with rejoicing in our salvation. It is gratitude and thankfulness for God’s holiness and mercy. It looks like compassion for our dying neighbors. Repentance is living with a passion for Jesus and a desire to see people worship him. If we can kill indifference, we will remove another barrier to transformational community.

Fear of Man

Although apathy and indifference are strangling the church, these are not our only enemies. Another barrier that is crushing the church and crippling the mission is fear of man. We fear rejection, mockery, and the loss of status among our neighbors and coworkers.

While I struggle with this sin more than apathy in my own life, I find it borders on the edge of ridiculous. The vast majority of the church in twenty-first-century America has little to fear for their faith. Mockery and rejection are of little consequence to our lives, yet this fear chokes out our faith in the resurrection and the power of the Holy Spirit. There are some Christians today who still face death for their faith, but chances are, you are not one of them. So what is it that we fear?

Jesus tells us not to “fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”12Jesus is essentially telling us that it is ridiculous to fear anyone other than God—even if they can kill you. When we fear men or their opinions, we elevate their importance above our King’s. When we are unwilling to share the truth of our Savior for fear of rejection, we do the same thing.

Do you fear God? Every instance of fear of man in the Bible leads to sin. Conversely, Psalms tells us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”13Repentance is humbly submitting our lives to Christ and his service. It means boldly sharing our lives and faith with our neighbors.

As Paul exhorts Timothy, I want to exhort you, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”14We have not been given a spirit of fear but a spirit of confidence in our heavenly Father. Notice it is a spirit that he gives us. We don’t need to muster confidence from within; we only need to accept the gift.

Life comes from God. Life in our community groups cannot be manufactured. It is received through the Holy Spirit as we abide in our Savior.

If there is something to fear, it should be the wrath of God for those who are not justified through the cross. We should be compelled by fear for our unbelieving neighbors to appeal to them to be reconciled to God. The blood of Jesus is thicker than rejection, mockery, or even death. When we see God clearly, there is nothing to fear from men. As I said at the beginning this chapter, I fear receiving the grace of God in vain. If we lived with that fear, we would never be afraid to join the battle for God’s glory.

A Brighter Future

Just writing about apathy, indifference, and the fear of man is breaking me again as I see my shortcomings in every sentence. How about you? Are you feeling broken yet? There isn’t a time when any of us are doing all the right things, myself included. But if we’re honest about our failings and turn to Christ, he liberally accepts us and will empower us for ministry again. The good news is that we have died to sin.15Our sin has been hung on the cross. We are free to live as the chosen people of God. He restored us to himself while we were still rebelling against him,16and he is faithful to restore his church once again. I am not asking you to become something new. I am calling you to recognize and believe in who you already are. Christ has already done the work, and we get to joyfully receive it and reflect it to our neighbors.

Ultimately, the point is that the best strategy and a perfect structure will not produce transformational community. Authentic change is a reorientation of our hearts toward God. Everything else hinges on this heart change. Life comes from God. Life in our community groups cannot be manufactured. It is received through the Holy Spirit as we abide in our Savior.

The truth is that shepherding people to authentic community is in and of itself a battle. We will need to fight against apathy, indifference, and fear of man continuously as we shepherd one another toward a bigger vision of community. But we fight by believing the truth and promises of the gospel. This is a battle that can not only be won, but also one that has already been won on the cross. We possess everything we need to live lives of holiness.17 We have access to the great Counselor, the Holy Spirit.18We have the example of Jesus; we are new creations in Christ who are no longer bound to sin but are slaves of righteousness.19

Notes:

  1. John Owen, The Mortification of Sin in Believers (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1842), 9.
  2. 1 Pet. 5:8.
  3. Mark 4:15.
  4. 2 Cor. 2:11; Eph. 4:27.
  5. Charles H. Spurgeon, “The Ethiopian” (sermon no. 2536), in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 43 (London: Pilgrim, 1897), 462. Also see http://www .spurgeongems.org/vols43-45/chs2536.pdf, page 4.
  6. John 14:6.
  7. 2 Thess. 1:8–9.
  8. John 12:25.
  9. Eph. 6:12; Matt. 9:37–38.
  10. Matt 9:37; John 4:35.
  11. 1 Tim. 1:15.
  12. Matt. 10:28.
  13. Prov. 9:10.
  14. 2 Tim. 1:6–7.
  15. Rom. 6:11.
  16. Rom. 5:8, 10.
  17. 2 Pet. 1:3.
  18. John 14:16, 26
  19. 2 Cor. 5:17; Romans 6.

This article is adapted from Community: Taking Your Small Group off Life Support by Brad House.



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