When life is stable and things are good, our sense of need for robust Christian relationships may seem small.
Yet, when we find ourselves living in the 21st century, our need for faith-based invigorated ongoing relationship skyrockets.
When Christian people decide their intent is to live in the way of Jesus Christ, they quickly recognize an increased need for support, encouragement, challenge and grace in order to sustain this way of life.
When Christian people decide to join God’s mission of bringing the kingdom to earth, they quickly realize they cannot sustain the effort required in isolation.
Before we attempt this way of life, casual and loose church relationships suffice. After we start this disciple-living journey, then our need for robust faith-focused relationships escalates.
So, if a church intentionally designed groups that could support invigorated disciple development and missional living, they would address these three needs.
1. The need for a group of people who share a common pilgrimage.
Ever feel out of place at church? Ever feel like what others in your church are pursuing is not what you are pursuing?
During the 20th century, when a certain church culture was in place, we all generally knew what we were about. Now, when living as a Christian disciple is less culturally reinforced, Christians are being driven to more primal aspirations.
Now they are focused on the call of Jesus to follow and live as Jesus lived (loving God, others and self).
Because this calling is growing more challenging and is more of a minority movement, more than ever we need a community of people who share this aspiration.
We need partners on this journey – other living, breathing human beings who also want to be shaped by Jesus Christ, living out their callings daily.
Without a group who shares this ongoing pilgrimage, disciples grow discouraged and drop out (becoming “dones”).
With a group who shares this ongoing pilgrimage, disciples discover Christian community, speaking a common language while pursuing a common way of life.
2. The need for a group of people with whom to share our successes and failures.
Where does this happen in your church? In many churches, Sunday school is structured for lecturing – receiving information, not sharing life. Worship is even less personal, sitting and watching most of the time.
Weight Watchers, Alcoholics Anonymous, therapy groups all discovered the power of groups years ago.
When people gather themselves in groups, structuring sharing about successes and failures related to the spiritual journey into their rhythm, then they experience tremendous support and encouragement. Disciples are heartened, gaining energy for pursuing Christ’s ways with them.
3. The need for a group of people who will call us beyond ourselves.
For those privileged to live above the poverty level, the great danger of our times in North America is self-absorption. Most everything in our culture encourages us away from altruism and community involvement toward self-centered living.
Fortunately, God has provided the antidote for this illness. When we place ourselves in covenant-based relationships with disciples who are pursuing a life based on the way of Jesus, then we are consistently challenged to step outside ourselves.
When this kind of Christian community happens, we are constantly called to become more than we are living for God’s sake, loving God’s world.
Strangely, I’ve heard some say this is too much to ask from church – “People don’t want to get that involved with each other. They just want to worship and go home.”
Yes, perhaps that’s the way church-as-we-have-known-it functioned. Those are also the churches that are diminishing and dying in this postmodern culture.
Those churches who will survive and thrive in the near future are those redefining even now what we need from one another.
May we respond as Christ-followers who believe that we and the world just cannot wait for the love of Jesus Christ any longer.
Mark Tidsworth is president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates. A version of this article first appeared on Pinnacle’s blog and is used with permission. His writings can also be found on his personal blog.
Mark Tidsworth is president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates.