What the public generally knows about Saddleback Church is that we have a large weekend attendance. But what the outside world doesn't realize is that the strength of Saddleback is really in our small groups.
The press reports what happens on Sunday, but they can't see what happens all week long. The fact is, more people are involved in small groups at Saddleback than attend the weekend services.
Small groups are extremely important at Saddleback because we believe so strongly in the power of community. Community is a bit of a buzzword in today's church culture, and I think that's a good thing. We need to understand it.
It's really a modern term for an ancient word—fellowship. The Greek word for fellowship in the Bible is the word koinonia. And koinonia means being as committed to each other as we are to Jesus Christ.
At Saddleback, we talk a lot about the building blocks of biblical community, and there are at least 10 of them. Here are the first five:
1. Frequency. In fellowship, we meet together often. It's not every once in a while. It's quite frequent. The Bible tells us in Hebrews 10:25, "Let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but let us exhort one another, especially as you see the Day approaching." A habit is something you do with frequency. You don't do a habit occasionally. You do a habit frequently. You do it over and over and over.
2. Authenticity. In fellowship, you share your true feelings. There are three fears that cause us to be inauthentic: the fear of exposure, the fear of rejection and the fear of being hurt again. In the light of God's truth, we don't try to hide our faults. So as James 5:15 says, "Confess your faults to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed." In recovery we have a saying that you're only as sick as your secrets. I often say revealing your feelings is the beginning of healing. That's what authenticity is all about. You say, "This is where I'm at," and you admit it.
The quickest way to build authenticity in your life and in your group is this: Study and apply the Word of God. "For the word of God is alive, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intents of the heart." It's not pop psychology that makes you authentic. It's not therapy that makes you authentic. It's not ooey-gooey sentimentality that makes you authentic. It's coming into contact with the Word of God. When I look at the Word of God and let it touch my soul, and I see where I don't measure up and where I need to grow, then it forces me to be authentic.
3. Mutuality. Fellowship is built on mutuality. In fellowship that means we help each other grow. Together we're stronger. You cannot be who God wants you to be without other people. Romans 1:12 says, "I mean that I want us to help each other with the faith that we have. Your faith will help me, and my faith will help you" (ERV). That's like that great theologian Bill Withers once said, "We all need somebody to lean on." We need each other to do that.
There are three parts to mutuality.
- Mutual accountability. In other words, you get a prayer partner in your group. You have somebody whom you're personally encouraging in their quiet time, in their faith and in their spiritual growth. Someone you get alone with and with whom you commit to checking up on each other.
- Mutual encouragement. "[Speak] only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen" (NIV). 1 Thessalonians 5:14 says, "And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone."
- Mutual honoring. Romans 12:10 says, "Take delight in honoring each other" (TLB).
4. Courtesy. Fellowship is built on courtesy. That means in fellowship we show respect for our differences. In fellowship we show respect even when we disagree with each other. You can disagree without being disagreeable. The Bible says, "And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful" (NIV). Show courtesy to everyone.
The fifth building block of genuine fellowship. If you want deep intimate relationships with other people in your group, in your family or anywhere else is:
5. Sympathy. In fellowship we support each other when we're in need. We support each other when we're in pain. We support each other in our feelings. The Bible says in Colossians 3:12, "Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience" (NLT). It says be sympathetic, kind, humble and patient. What does it mean to be sympathetic? Sympathy simply means to understand and affirm your feelings, to understand and affirm your problems, to understand and affirm your pain. That's what it means to be sympathetic.
I'll share the other five building blocks in my next post, but for now, pass this along to those who lead in your small groups and have a conversation about where you're doing well and what you need to work on next.
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, one of America's largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. His book, The Purpose Driven Church, was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for pastors.
For the original article, visit pastors.com.
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