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WHAT CAN YOU DO?
1. Connect - Small Groups

by Delbert Young

(video audio page)

1. Connect - Small Groups - What can you do?

Usually this Sunday every year, I attempt to talk about what I'd like to see happen at our church during the year. Most of the time, very little of what I talk about happens, mostly because I forget what I talked about. But, this year we have a plan. It's not only my plan. It's our plan. I'll be sharing more of the details as we solidify the plan.

However, the first part of the plan begins today. As you probably know, "church" in America is changing. In fact, "church" around the planet is changing. Surveys show people have a greater interest in spiritual things than ever. However, they are less interested in traditional church than ever. Is that a bad thing? To me it's a good thing. This is why I was born. To me, this is why Life Gate exists. This should be our finest hour.

Over the next few weeks, I want to talk to you about "What Can You Do?" to help take advantage of the hour and what God is doing. Let me tell you why it's so important. (1) There are some things we need to do as a church to have the church environment we enjoy. We must do certain things if we - you and I - get something out of church. We want good music and praise, good safe nursery, good safe children ministries, good safe student ministries, good teaching, right. (2) There are things we must do to be a church you can invite friends and loved ones to. We want a nice facility. When you finally get people to come, we've got to be able to engage them from the time they drive into the parking lot until they drive out. (3) Our influence goes far beyond what we do here Sunday. Our lessons are going all over the place from the web. We are on television in northeast Alabama, northwest Georgia, and the Chattanooga TN area. Your participation makes a much larger influence in lives than you can know by simply showing up and pitching in to do what I'm going to be talking about. Our goal is to create an environment we enjoy, drawing people, and reaching who knows who.

So, for the next few minutes, I would like to pretend you would like to know the answers to the question "What Can You Do?" I'm going to ask you to all say together "What Can I Do?" Humor me even if you don't care and say out loud "What Can I Do?"

1. CONNECT - Life Groups

Some of you are very connected. Some are mildly connected. And some of you are disconnected. If we're going to do, if you're going to do, what God's asked us to do, we've got to connect. WHAT CAN YOU DO? #1 Connect.

What I specifically mean is connect in a small group. Here's what you need to understand. Small groups are the essence of the Christian experience. I heard it said this way, "Circles are better than rows." What does that mean? The ESSENCE of the Christian experience is circling up connected, not sitting in rows looking at me. It's better to look at one another in a circle than in a row looking at me. Do we need both? Absolutely. The New Testament teaches both and we can't really do one well without the other. In fact, we're not really having church unless we do both.

When Jesus came on the scene to begin what we call Christianity, worshiping God - Jehovah - in the Old Testament and pagan god worship - Zeus, Aphrodite, Apollo, whatever - was going to a temple, slitting the throat of a bull or goat or lamb or even a child, giving its blood as sacrifice, leaving gold or silver, and somehow attempting to gain the favor of the god worshiped. Their worship was mostly so the god would leave them alone and not curse them. Worship wasn't an act of loving a Father. It was an act of fear. Jesus came saying it was different with him. Jesus said the way you show your love and devotion to God is by the way you treat ONE ANOTHER.

John 13:34-35 "A new command I give you: LOVE ONE ANOTHER. As I have loved you, so you must LOVE ONE ANOTHER. BY THIS all men will know that you are my disciples, if you LOVE ONE ANOTHER."

Jesus, what's your point? His point is the way people will know and you will know you're following Jesus is not by how much scripture you know. It's not if you can name off the 10 Commandments. It's not by your praying a sinner's prayer, or giving your tithe. It's by how you treat one another. Christianity at its core is about one another. The way you know you love God is not shown only by how you love an invisible God. It's shown by how you love one another. Traditional church emphasizes rows. Jesus talked about one another - circles - small groups where people look at one another. That's how it's done.

Here's what we need to see, including me and most of us. Groups are not an add-on to church. It's not we have to go to church and add going to small groups. Church is both. Church isn't only rows. Church is meeting in circles and in rows.

Acts 2:46-47 Every day they continued to MEET TOGETHER in the TEMPLE COURTS. They broke bread in their HOMES and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And THE LORD ADDED TO THEIR NUMBER DAILY those who were being saved.

They gathered corporately together (rows) and in homes together (circles). This is the context of the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Acts 5:42-6:1 Day after day, in the TEMPLE COURTS AND FROM HOUSE TO HOUSE, they never stopped TEACHING and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ. In those days when THE NUMBER OF DISCIPLES WAS INCREASING...

They did both rows and circles. Why did the "Jesus movement" not die when their leader Jesus left? They didn't have the New Testament. They didn't have the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They didn't have the Book of Acts. They were living it. They didn't have the epistles of Paul, James, Peter, or the Revelation. All they had was love one another through rows and circles. From their expression of love for one another, people came and the church grew and spread all over the world. It wasn't the dynamics of those eleven men though filled with the Spirit and mightily used by God. It was how they did circles and rows to love one another.

Acts 20:20 You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you PUBLICLY AND FROM HOUSE TO HOUSE.

There were the public gatherings where basic concepts were taught and house to house circles where questions were asked and interaction and connections took place.

By definition, a connection happens in a circle that doesn't happen in a row. What do you mean Delbert? I'll try to develop it this way.

Luke 17:1 Jesus said to his disciples: THINGS that cause people to STUMBLE are BOUND TO COME, but woe to anyone through whom they come. (TNIV)

The picture Jesus is giving is something happening in our lives we didn't see coming. The word - skandalon {skan'-dal-on} - means from something we simply trip over to our stumbling into a trap capturing us. Jesus tells us it's impossible to go through life and things not come tripping us up. Jesus said there are things out there capable of taking us out. It's inevitable.

He said "things" as in many. Things in life can blindside us. I think we can all relate to this. The list of things causing people to stumble is endless. Jesus said, "Woe to anyone through whom they come," so people can cause us to stumble. Addictions cause people to stumble. Drugs, alcohol, affairs, anger, porn, etc. take people out in life destroying lives, marriages, occupations, children's lives, and health, on and on. Things cause us to stumble in our relationship with Jesus and church. New friends and going off to college had a big affect on me. I had to deal with things and ideas I never had to deal with before. While in college, I went from being the leader of our church youth group to nearly becoming an atheist.

Let's ask this: Do you think there are things out there that could be thrown in front of your children with the ability to trip them up and cause them to stumble? Do you think there could be things that could stumble up your middle school child? How about your teenage children? Could things cause them to stumble away from God? If you're a parent, you say, "Absolutely!" It frightens you. This society is throwing things at your kids you and I never faced. The point is it's the same for you mom and you dad. Here's the really frightening part. Inevitably they will stumble. Jesus promised.

Now what happens to your child? What happens to your marriage? But, what if your child, your middle school student, your high school, your college child, or you were connected with people who loved them/you and those people focused on loving them/you as Jesus does? What if they and you were connected with people who, when your child or your spouse stumbled refused to let them lay there captured? You probably say, "I'll deal with mine. I'll get them up." You're probably fooling yourself. When any of us stumble, the last people we listen to are family. If you've ever raised a teenager, or ever been a teenager, you know how dumb parents, grandparents, siblings, and family are.

Here are the phone calls and problems we hear:" My husbands acting weird. I'm afraid he's having an affair." Or, "Golf is more important to him than family." "I'm afraid my wife is addicted to alcohol or prescription drugs. She's in a daze all the time. I don't know what to do." "I'm afraid my child is around wrong people and experimenting with drugs and he/she won't listen to me. All they do is get angry and yell." Could that spouse or that child be stumbling? Could yours? What do you do?

When we stumble, we don't want anyone to help us. It's as if we say, "No, I'm fine laying here. I like it down here." Just leave me alone in my mess. When we stumble what we need most is what we desire least. That's why family seems to help so little and is nearly useless when a member stumbles.

Ecclesiastes 4:9 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: IF ONE FALLS DOWN, HIS FRIEND CAN HELP HIM UP. BUT PITY THE MAN WHO FALLS AND HAS NO ONE TO HELP HIM UP! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three STRANDS is not quickly broken.

It's not his family member can help him up. It's his friend. It's the synergy principle. Two people working together can accomplish at least three times one can accomplish. Two animals can pull about four times what one could pull. We get up three times faster with one friend, but many times faster with several friends.

When we are stumbling, we won't listen to family. A husband's not going to listen to his wife when stumbling. A wife is not going to listen to her husband when stumbling. A child is not going to listen to parents when stumbling, but when stranded together with friends, when we fall, a friend will help us up. But pity the man who...

Usually the people I get calls from are not in a circle. They may be on a row, but not stranded together into a circle. When in a circle, those people will rally and help. When not, pity the person - child, middle school student, high school student, college student, mom, dad, wife, husband - who when they stumble are not circled and stranded with loving people who know and want God's will.

Pity the person who does not have people who say, "We are going to stand here and pull and pull until we get you up. We are not going to allow you to stay down there." Pity the person who does not have that. The best preparation any of us can make for the inevitability of stumbling is a circle. I can stumble out of a row. I can stumble out of my prayer time. I can stumble out of my relationship with God. I can stumble out of listening to my wife. But, it's nearly impossible to stumble out of a stranded circle. When I have stumbled, and I have, there was always a circle of people around me who would not let me lay there. They called me. They came to see me. They kept pulling on me until they got me up.

Imagine some of you, not all but some, had your parents had a circle of people around them when things got so bad at home they decided to divorce. What if their circle said, "We're not going to just let your marriage fall apart?" We'll pay for the counseling. We'll take you to counseling. We'll do all we can. We're going to fight for your marriage and your family even if you don't have the energy." But pity the person...

What if your 10th grader had an adult leader in their circle that they respected and thought cool when they rebelled and refused to listen to you, but listened to that leader? He or she said the same things you say, but it was cool coming from them. Would it maybe keep them from making that horrible stumble? What if you'd of had one in the 10th grade? But pity the person...

What if your wife had a circle of women around her who told her "bad idea" when she wanted to go to a club on a "girl's night out"? Or go to Vegas on a "girls trip." But pity the person...

This year, it is not only about rows. It's also about circles. It's about life to life, face to face, doing life together, opening God's word together, praying for each other together, stumbling through life together, helping marriages get back up together, praying through prodigals together, refusing not to go away as long as you are down. Sitting in rows just can't do that.

Andy Stanley, North Point Community Church, Alpharetta, GA

 

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