A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to share a few thoughts with our small group leaders about the significance of what they do. I love our Life Group ministry at South. We’ve seen it grow significantly over the past two years; but more than that, we have seen people find places to share in the ‘one anothers’ of the scriptures and truly be an encouragement to each other. I wanted to share a ‘cliff notes’ version of what I taught to our leaders. The Lord continues to remind me of the significance of this. I hope it ministers to you are you either lead a small group or as you engage in one as a participant.
For the training, I explored the way that God shaped and formed his people (Israel) through their Egyptian exile (focusing primarily in Exodus 1 and 12). It was God’s purpose to form a people for himself, and he went about doing that in a very intentional way. There are some great things for us to learn and engage with as we seek to create places where people can be formed through and into community – because Christian formation happens in community, or not at all!
First, we see that in Exodus 1:8-12 the nation of Israel PRODUCED together. They were working together to make bricks in the fields. There is something about a shared mission that bind a group of people together. Bible study will bring a group of people together, but shared mission will form a community. The biblical model is always that mission begets community, not the other way around! If we are grounded in the mission of God together, we will find ourselves in life giving community. This is why we encourage our life groups to serve together. This year we are going a step further and asking them to embrace a mission together; one that they will pray for and revisit throughout the semester.
Second, in the same passage (Exodus 1:8-12) we see that the nation of Israel walked through PAIN together. They ask the heartfelt question, “God, where are you? Did you lead us here to die?” Have you ever noticed that pain binds people together? Before God leads Israel out of Egypt, he leads them to one another through the means of suffering! This is part of the deepening of community and where community really starts to be formed – when people share their pain and find people to walk with them in it. Most people have become so guarded that a safe life group may be the only place where they can share the true struggles of their soul. Life Groups that flourish share their pain and are willing to rally around one another when life gets real and difficult. This does not mean that we give all the answers; it means that we let people tell their story.
Third, If you skip forward in the story (past the calling of Moses and most of the plagues), you’ll find the nation of Israel gathering around the commands of God and learning from Him (Exodus 12). They engage in a PROCESS of learning together. After nine of the ten plagues had passed, God commanded every household in the nation of Israel to put the blood of a lamb on their doorposts and promised they would be spared from the devastation that was coming for the Egyptians. The Passover was one of the greatest teachings that the people of God have ever had… and still have! God systematically taught his people (together) what it meant to follow after him! He taught them about his holiness, He taught them about their need, He taught them about his power, He taught them about his grace. Together the nation learned and grew in their knowledge of God – his goodness and his grace. This was a journey that they were on together; they were not alone! What we see is that learning is richest when it is engaged as a communal process!
Fourth, as a nation the people of Israel receive a PROMISE from God. You see this very clearly in Exodus 12:24-25. He was giving them a great land! There was a conviction in the Israelite community that God had made a covenant with them. It was one of the most significant things that bound them together. They were people of the promise! In the same way that this covenant bound the Israelite people together and set the backdrop for the Exodus narrative, so too does the gospel (the New Covenant) bind followers of Jesus together today. As we remind each other of the Covenant that God has with his people, we grow in deeper and deeper community. We are reminded that we are shaped and formed by the same God for the purpose of his Kingdom. In this way, the gospel CREATES community!
Finally, we see the Israelites gather together and with one unified voice offer PRAISE to God (see Exodus 12:26-27). After the Passover, the people got together and worshiped. They were in awe of the way they saw God work and move in their midst – worship was what they had to do in response the way God had displayed his power and might. Worship binds people together. We get the chance to see God move and work; not only in us, but in people that we know and love as well.
Production, process, pain, process, promise, and praise – these are some of the key ways that God shapes and forms a people for himself. Life groups that embrace and embody these five qualities will flourish!