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. What are the key building blocks of biblical community?
Small groups are extremely important at Saddleback because we believe so strongly in the power of community. Community is a bit of a buzz word 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…
In fellowship we meet together often. It’s not an every once in a while. It’s quite frequent. The Bible tells us in Hebrews 10:25, “Let us not give up the habit of meeting together. Instead, let us encourage one another.” 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.
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, “Admit your faults one to another and pray for each other so 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 feeling 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. “The word of God is full of living power. It is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our inner most thoughts and desires. It exposes us for what we really are.” 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.
Fellowship is built on mutuality. In fellowship that means we help each other grow. Together we’re stronger. You cannot be what God wants you to be without other people. Romans 1:12 says, “I want us to help each other with the faith we have. Your faith will help me and my faith will help you.” 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 who you’re personally encouraging in their quiet time in your faith and in your spiritual growth. Someone you get alone with and 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.” The Bible says, “Encourage anyone who feels left out. Help all who are weak, and be patient with everyone.”
- Mutual honoring. Romans 12:10 “Take delight in honoring each other.”
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, “Believers shouldn’t curse anyone or be quarrelsome, but they should be gentle and show courtesy to everyone.” 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…
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 “As holy people whom God has chosen and loved, be sympathetic.” 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.
This is key because next to fear, pride destroys relationships more quickly than anything else. That’s why 1 Peter 5:5 is so important for us as believers: “…clothe yourself with humility towards one another…” Humility means being honest about my weaknesses because I have them. Humility is being willing to admit it when I’ve made a mistake because we all do. Humility enables us to say the four most difficult words, “I need your help.” The three most difficult words, “I was wrong.” The two most difficult words, “Forgive me.”
Most people don’t have anyone in their lives who loves them enough to be honest with them, to be frank with them, to tell them the truth. The Bible says, “Speak the truth in love.” Being candid and being connected go together. Healthy relationships and healthy groups are built on honesty and not on flattery or on faking it.
The fact is, every fellowship is composed of imperfect people so people are going to be hurt. The issue is, how do you handle the hurt? It’ll determine whether the fellowship splits up or stays together. How do you handle the honesty of life, the conflicts of life? “You must make allowances for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you so you must forgive others.” The motivation for mercy? God’s been merciful to me. If you call yourself a Christian you have to show mercy to people when they ask forgiveness.
Fellowship is built on confidentiality. You’ll never develop any close fellowship in your small group without confidentiality. In fact, the quickest way to destroy a small group is gossip. There are dozens of verses on gossip. God has a lot to say on gossip. He says, “No one who gossips can be trusted with a secret, but you can put confidence in someone who’s trustworthy.” The church and small groups ought to be the safest place in the world.
This is the 10th and the highest building block. Unity is the ultimate pinnacle of fellowship. Where do we get unity? We discover unity around God’s purposes, not around a personality. You can have unity without uniformity. Does God want us all to be alike? No. Does God want us to be unified? Yes. Ten times in the first five chapters of Acts it says, “They were of one accord. They were unified… They were all together… They were of one heart…of one spirit.” When we have the unity of the book of Acts in our church we will have the power of the book of Acts in our church.