In order to have a vision for community, we need to understand the purpose of community. In my experience with community group ministry, I have heard many purposes for joining community groups, including but not limited to: belonging, making big church feel small, learning the Bible, pastoral care, fellowship, friends, closing the back door of the church, evangelism, and so on. Each of these purposes has merit and can be argued as essential to the church. I would suggest, however, that these “purposes” are in fact the product of community rather than its ultimate goal.
Why is this significant? Let me give you an example. When I was playing basketball in junior high, I went into the game off the bench as we were inbounding the ball. As I came off a screen, I found myself wide open under the basket. My teammate passed me the ball and I made an easy layup. The only problem: we were lined up under our opponent’s basket. The point: it is increasingly difficult to score points for your team when you are aiming at the wrong basket. In the case of the church, our goal is to produce disciples of Jesus who worship him and exalt his name. If we aim at a product (such as belonging) as the purpose of community, we can achieve that goal without pointing to Jesus.
When retaining people becomes our goal, we inadvertently communicate that our purpose is to grow the church rather than glorify God. We become more interested in building the church rather than advancing the kingdom. We lift up the church rather than the name of Jesus. When fellowship, care, or belonging becomes the focus of our communities, we elevate people and their needs over the kingdom. In doing so, we create people who begin to believe the purpose of the church is to meet their needs. In essence, we create consumers.
Jesus tells us that we know a tree by its fruit and that a bad tree cannot produce good fruit. If we produce disciples who are navel-gazers or are obsessed with the growth of the church at the expense of the gospel, then the tree is bad. Trying harder won’t make it produce fruit. We need a healthy tree. Every time we elevate the fruit of ministry above the purpose to glorify God, we turn the fruit into an idol. The fruit becomes our focus and we settle for less than Christ glorified.
At the end of the day, our purpose in community is to receive the grace of God and respond by imaging him and lifting up the name of Jesus. If community is about imaging God for his renown and his worship, then community groups must be in the business of creating disciples. In Pastor Bill Clem’s book Disciple, he rightly describes Jesus as the prototypical image bearer living a life devoted to the Father’s work and accomplishing that work through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus was more than an example, securing our redemption through his death and resurrection, yet he provides a picture of what we could be as disciples who walk in the Spirit. Additionally, by building a disciple-making movement, Jesus becomes not just our example of being a disciple, but he is also our example for being a disciple maker. Jesus left a legacy of people transformed by his presence even centuries after he ascended. In this way he provides a picture of a church that is committed to being disciples who make disciples.
This article is adapted from Community: Taking Your Small Group off Life Support by Brad House.
It is dangerous and tempting to change behavior without also changing heart and mind.