Summary: If you expect the people in your group to be “normal,” you’re in for a big surprise. If you hope to build close-knit community with other Christians by joining a small group, you have to bring a different expectation. You have to expect that everyone is fatally flawed, and that those flaws will negatively affect you at some point. How you handle this will make all the difference.
This may be the single biggest revelation a person needs to have in order to survive long-term in a small group (after a revelation of Christ of course).
Our major pursuit is to be close to people. It’s why we meet people, get married, join churches, etc.
But there’s a rub. We want to accomplish this without getting hurt.
In his book Everybody’s Normal Till You Get To Know Them, John Ortberg relates us to porcupines because they have 2 methods for handling relationships: withdrawal and attack. They’re very solitary animals. If you get too close to them and they feel threatened; they’ll either run away or shoot their sharp quills at you. These two reactions are at the heart of sin. They both demonstrate a lack of love.
But every once in a while, porcupines are motivated to become friends (mating season!). Although they hardly ever do it, they are actually able to pull in their quills and learn to dance with another porcupine.
Although they’re covered in quills, a Christian’s motivation comes from the Agape Love that’s been poured out in their hearts. They can learn to dance together in community and express the Agape Love within them.
Anything that involves life always involves a growth process. Babies don’t pop out as adults, the seeds you plant in your garden don’t bear fruit for months, and joining a small group doesn’t feel like a family, tribe or clan (like the rumors say) from the start.
I don’t know, maybe we’ve been conditioned to expect that it will be this way by our fast food, on-demand culture. Maybe it’s trained us mentally to expect to experience the fruits of our labor right now without going through any of the process that’s necessary to get there.
Whatever it is, if the hope of a group of people is to express authentic close-knit organic Kingdom community by joining a small group long-term, they must abandon the expectation that everything will be coming up roses as soon as they start meeting together.
While there certainly will be many good things about it at the start (feelings of purpose and comradery), it should be no surprise when people’s issues start being exposed as time passes. We must expect to go through the cross to get to the resurrection.
But unfortunately, it seems that all too often people ARE surprised.
This is an illusion. It’s the illusion that normal people exist. When we have social interactions and surface conversations, it sure can seem that way. When people first start meeting together, it’s natural that we’re more guarded. Just like when two people are dating, most people are focused on putting their best foot forward. There’s really nothing wrong with this. It’s totally natural. Again, it’s a process.
People can be extremely good at hiding issues. But just like the illusion of water in desert, the closer you get, the clearer the situation becomes. The key is to not to buy into the illusion that the cross isn’t coming.
Everybody has an “old man” they’re battling with, and when you get close to them, it’s going to come out someway somehow. You’re now going to have to battle with it. And they’re going to have to battle with yours alongside you as well.
For people that will join small groups, a revelation is required. It’s the revelation that humans are depraved. They have flaws. This revelation isn’t your typical “Yes, I know all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” It’s the revelation that the specific people you plan on being with or are currently with are really messed up people. Sure, they’re good people by the world’s standards. To go a step further, they’re spiritually precious saints of God who are holy and pure. But that’s not the only part of them you’re dealing with. Like our Lord said, there is only One who is Good.
It may take you a while to find the flaws, or you may notice some quickly (more likely!). But if you truly create an environment of Kingdom community with others, everyone’s depravity sees the light at one time or another.
Think about Peter. He lived with the Lord of the universe in the flesh for 3 years, seeing miracle upon miracle. At the most important time in the life and ministry of Jesus, what did he do? Peter denied Him. Once would be bad. But 3 times?!?!
After investing his life into Peter, Jesus encountered a major flaw in him. He was a people-pleaser. As Ortberg also points out…
We are predisposed to do wrong when the conditions are right.
The conditions were right for Peter to expose this flaw in himself, and he did just that. The conditions are going to be right at some point for everyone when you join a small group. It’s just a matter of time.
In those moments, it’s the way the members of a community respond to each other that makes the difference. I’m going to amplify a bit what the apostle Paul says to the believers in the Galatian churches (Galatians 6:1-3) when they were dealing with all sorts of sin issues in their community…
If someone is caught in a sin, be gentle with them. Have a humble attitude while you do it, because you have your own issues they have to put up with. And you are not immune. After you correct them, who knows, they could be correcting you tomorrow. The job of the community is to carry one another burdens. It’s a mutual thing. This is how you fulfill the law of Christ, which is Love. This is what Love is in action. Don’t be deceived. You are no better than them. It’s their issue today, and your issue tomorrow. So don’t try to fix them or control them, but walk alongside them as a teammate as you work together toward the same purpose; growth in Christ.
In the end, the choice is between bouncing around in continuous isolation or fighting through your issues together. Sure, you have to put up with some pretty ugly stuff, both yours and theirs. But community is to the soul what food, air and water are to the body.
We’re communal beings that have an innate need to be a part of something bigger than ourselves that matters; and God’s ultimate purpose is to have a communal bride to marry (Revelation 21). But in order to bring her forth, we’ve got to fight to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace, even when we get shot with the quills of our brothers and sisters.
In the world, people love those who love them (Luke 6:32). But, this isn’t special. It’s not what makes the Kingdom the Kingdom. It’s the bearing with each other and the bearing of one another’s burdens in Agape Love that marks a Kingdom community.
Your job isn’t to fix and/or control people, but to create a Kingdom environment where you relate and operate with each other by Kingdom principles (please learn what those are, for they are not taught much). Those issues that you’re so concerned about? Trust the Holy Spirit.
If you create the right environment (read more of this blog to learn what that is), He will do His part as Teacher, Helper, etc. (John 14:26). People will start growing because He will be working in and through each member to cause it to grow (Col. 2:19).
It will be a mystery to you because you won’t really know how it happens, and you’ll learn that it’s never been about HOW, but about WHO.
Jesus’ new commandment was that we’d love one another as He loved us (John 13:34-35). So every time the quills shoot out, whether they’re yours or somebody else’s, remember Peter.
The rest of the posts in the Nobody’s Normal series are here.