Summary: So how do we rightly relate to one another in our small groups? I have found there is no reason to "reinvent the wheel" in responding to this question. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his classic work, Life Together, explains 7 ways to serve your small group.
Last week, I used an illustration to show that Jesus should be the center of our small group meetings. He is the real leader of the small group. He is alive. He comes to us in the person of the Holy Spirit. And he is Lord. But lying underneath this goal of our gathering is the reality that we all must still live in relationship to one another.
As you and I all know, it’s not always easy being in relationship with others. At best, we don’t know how to interact with people who are different than us. At worst, we just don’t like people who are different than us. So we develop bonds with those who are like us, only to find that the more they are like us, the more we find ourselves competing with them. Sometimes I wonder, "maybe the whole idea of getting along is overrated!" Yet, in Christian community, we are called to do more than get along. When God calls us to himself he calls us to one another. He calls us to a deep, unbreakable, committed, covenantal relationship to him, and as those who are adopted as his children, we are also called to one another. If Jesus is the center of our community—if he is Lord—then we have no choice but to understand how he wants us to relate to one another within that community.
So how do we rightly relate to one another in our small groups? I have found there is no reason to "reinvent the wheel" in responding to this question. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his classic work, Life Together, explains 7 ways to serve your small group. The list is quite Biblical, and it gives us a clear picture of what healthy relationships in a small group look like as each member is committed to ministering to the others.
By the way, these 7 ministries are helpful in any community--a small group community, a marriage community of two, a work group, or a family community. If you will serve your wife or husband, your kids, your co-workers, or whoever in these ways, you will find yourself successful within those relationships. But our goal is to minister to one another in our small groups in these ways.
1. The Ministry of Holding One’s Tongue
Psalm 50:19-21 says, "To the wicked, God says…"You use your mouth for evil and harness your tongue to deceit. You speak continually against your brother and slander your own mother’s son. These things you have done and I kept silent; you thought I was altogether like you. But I will rebuke you and accuse you to your face."
One of the great unrecognized tragedies of man is our tendency to think it is God-like to speak against our brother. In Israel’s case, as they spoke harshly and slandered one another and God did not strike them down, they considered it a green light from God. To this day, most of us operate under a false code of ethics, somehow subconsciously believing it is godly to talk about others. If others succeed in ministry, Christian magazines print exposes of their shortcomings. When a brother is struggling with sin, or is even perceived to be, we want to ask someone to pray for them. In reality, we just want someone to know that person is not all that perfect, or we want them to know how great we are in our battle against sin and evil. When we speak against someone, whether it be in their face, such as a put-down or an insult, or behind their backs in gossip, it is always an attempt to prove them less like God or make us more like him. The uncontrolled tongue is always about self-justification—either we make them lower or we make ourselves higher.
An old African proverb says, "The ax forgets but the cut log does not." If our goal is to exalt Jesus as Lord in our community, it ought to be clear among us that we will not allow our tongues to be axes in our community. We might get over what we’ve said, but that other person does not soon forget. Let’s not speak negatively against one another. Let’s refuse to participate in gossip. Let’s keep the confidences that people share with us. "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."(Eph. 4:29)
2. The Ministry of Meekness
The first thing Paul exhorted the Roman believers after he told them to offer their bodies as living sacrifices was this: "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you." (Rom. 12:3)