G.R.E.A.T. SMALL GROUPS
These are my notes for teaching at the Cornerstone on Sunday, September 6, 2020.
INTRODUCTION: ISOLATION KILLS FAITH
When I graduated from college, I moved home to my parents' house. I left behind my church family and all my Christian friends. And my faith took a nosedive. Isolation kills faith.
I lost the faith-refueling power of a weekly worship celebration - the prayers and preaching and praise that are so essential to healthy faith. I also missed the support of my friends. I had no small group. I desperately needed our weekly prayer meetings and meals together.
Over the weeks, I felt my passion for Jesus draining away. I slipped back into old habits. I came so close to losing it all.
And then something wonderful happened. I found a little church just a five minute walk from home. That's what rescued me. Connecting to those 20-30 fellow believers brought my faith back to life again. I loved Sundays because I loved that church.
Sunday afternoons, I was part of a small group of young adults. We met in a home, hung out and ate together. We also did stuff together on weekends - trips into the city for meals, for example.
Christian community restored me. Connections with people rebuilt my connection to God.
BETTER TOGETHER: OUR SEPTEMBER SERIES
There has never been a more important time for Christian community than today. COVID has forced us apart and we must fight to re-connect. Our daily experiences in the world tend to undermine our faith, so whether it is in-person or online, we need the support of Christian friends. We're better together than we can ever be alone.
Each Sunday in September, I plan to teach on relationships, small groups, and the power of "one another."
The goal is for every one of us to join a small group for our general wellbeing, to keep our faith strong, and to help us grow mature as followers of Jesus.
Let me tell you where my teaching is headed today. In part one, we'll explore the dangers of isolation and the benefits of community. My goal is that we'll all commit to join a small group. In part two, I'll explore the life-changing power of the Bible. I'm excited to introduce a powerful way to study the Bible together in a small group.
Let's get started. I want you to see what happens when we try to fly solo and we don't build connections to Christian friends.
ELIJAH COLLAPSED WITHOUT COMMUNITY
Do you remember the prophet Elijah? He was a mighty man of God who faced down hundreds of hostile pagan prophets and Ahab and Jezebel, the evil rulers of Israel, Do you remember that Elijah called down fire from heaven? Wherever he went, miracles broke out. He seemed invincible - until he wasn't.
Elijah experienced a complete breakdown; it was physical, emotional, and spiritual burnout. He was filled with self-pity and he wanted to die.
(1 Kings 19:3-5) Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.
Why did Elijah crash and burn? He was disconnected from faithful believers and he felt all alone. Isolation is so dangerous to faith.
Without community, even the strongest champions of faith falter. For this reason, I want you to think of small groups as an essential part of your life and I want you to commit to join one.
Small groups are the antidote to isolation. They provide faith-building connections to other believers. The first Christian church was founded in Jerusalem and immediately these disciples of Jesus invested in community. There was no way they could stand alone against the pressures to give up.
(Acts 2:44-46) All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 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,
We learn a lot about community from the example of those first Jesus-followers. The five essentials of a healthy small group form an acronym, G.R.E.A.T:
GOD: we re-focus on what matters most.
RELATIONSHIPS: we find the friendships that support our faith.
ENCOURAGEMENT: we speak and hear words that build faith.
ASSIST: We help each other in practical ways.
TRUTH: Bible study helps us find and follow Jesus.
Whether it's a weekly meet-up with a friend at a coffee house, or a home group of eight, or a Zoom meeting, or a ministry team that serves together, we can all experience the power of Christian community. We are better together.
DECIDE TO JOIN A SMALL GROUP
I want us all to experience these GREAT benefits of Christian community. There's a couple of ways to do that. You could create your own group and invite people to join. If you do that, please let Pastor Joe know so he can support you. Or, you could join one of the groups Joe has organized. I'm so happy that several people have stepped up to host small groups this fall. There are sign ups for the groups in the Atrium or you can contact Joey for help.
So ... if you feel alone, if your faith is shaky, if you need support and encouragement from people who love and care about you, if you need prayer, if you need any kind of practical help ... get into a small group this fall.
OR if you love connecting with people, if your faith is strong and growing, if you want to encourage and support others, if you want to give some practical help or to pray for people, RIGHT NOW make the decision and commit to building or joining a small group. Let Pastor Joe know.
I'll see you in a few minutes for part two.
THE POWER OF BIBLE STUDY TOGETHER
Welcome to part two. I want to show you two things: the life-changing power of the Bible and a method for discussing the a Bible passage that works personally and in small groups.
Small groups should always include time to read and discuss a Bible passage or topic. It's essential because the Word of God is life-changing and faith-building. Getting together is good, getting together to study God's Word is even better.
Bible study in community happened in the first Christian church:
(Acts 2:42) They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship ...
The apostles' teaching was oral at first. They had been with Jesus for extended periods of time, so they simply passed on what they had seen and heard. This oral teaching was eventually written down and became the four Gospels of the New Testament.
The first Christians knew the value of Bible study and they were devoted to it. The word in verse 42 (devoted = proskartereo) means to persist, to persevere, to be tenacious.
Why were they so invested in Bible study? Because the Bible points us to Jesus and the truths and tools that transform our lives. Psalm 19 describes the life-changing power of the Bible:
(Psalms 19:7-8) The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. 8 The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
Look at the powerful impact of God's Word. When you study the Bible in a small group, your life will be renewed, you'll grow in wisdom, and you'll experience joy and spiritual enlightenment.
We also know that Bible study leads us to salvation and sanctification - we meet Jesus as our God and Savior and we follow his life-changing teachings, becoming more and more conformed to his character and conduct:
(2 Timothy 3:15-17) ... from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
God works through the Bible to shape and form our lives. The Word works.
Now, I'll show you an effective and easy to follow method for personal or small group Bible study.
HOW TO STUDY THE BIBLE IN A SMALL GROUP
Recently, I came across a book on how to study the Bible. It's called Seven Arrows: Aiming Bible Readers in the Right Direction. The origins of the book are interesting.
Matt Rogers wanted to teach a new believer how to study the Bible, so he met him for breakfast and doodled seven arrows on a napkin. Each arrow represents a step we can all take as we read the Word of God.
Those doodles became the outline for the book. The results have been life-changing for many. Listen what Dr. Rogers wrote:
"I never intended these simple doodles to go beyond that breakfast table. But they have ... I have watched disciple makers in our church use these Arrows to help a new believer grow ... teenagers read the Bible for themselves and unearth ... profound truths ... missionaries use these Arrows to aid in mission to unreached parts of the world ..." (p. 24).
I recommend using these seven arrows personally and in your small group. Here they are:
What does this passage say? Write it out in your own words.
What did this passage mean to the original audience?
What does this passage tell us about God?
What does this passage tell us about humans?
What does this passage demand of us?
How does this passage change the way we relate to people?
What does this passage prompt us to pray to God?
Check out Seven Arrows resources here: www.sevenarrowsbible.com. There are very brief videos explaining each arrow.
WRAPPING IT UP
Let's wrap things up with a very quick review.
Here's what I've said today:
We always do better together because isolation kills our faith.
Joining a G.R.E.A.T. small group has many benefits.
Studying the Bible in small groups is essential and powerful.
Here's what I've asked you to do today:
Join a small group. Create your own, or sign up in the Atrium, or get in touch with Pastor Joe for help. Commit yourself now.
Make Bible study an essential component of your small group.
Study the Bible in your small group using the Seven Arrows method.