By Karen Ward Robertson
During a small group gathering, Brian told us about the difficult transition he was undergoing in his job.
“This week I prayed for God to please help me just stay faithful through this tough time. And I thanked him that I don’t have to be faithful alone, that others are walking with me.”
Brian was talking about our small group, and we all knew exactly how he felt. Through this group God has given us all an incredible opportunity to walk with him alongside one another.
My fervent desire is that all of God’s people would know the joy we’ve known in a small group that becomes a cherished treasure and the first line of defense in our spiritual journey.
“I’m so exhausted after my weekend,” a friend from another congregation told me. “Somehow, just knowing all the things I had to do to get ready for hosting our small group made me tired before it even started. I don’t know how you have it at your house every week!”
My secret? We’ve become family, and that simplifies it. At times we have in our home six or more families, including 20 children. But like family, we see a need, we meet the need.
“I love that we meet here,” Kerri said one night. “If I want a cup of tea, I make me a cup. If I’m cold, I wrap up in a quilt beside the fire.”
Katina arrived hungry after a long nursing shift, so we opened the refrigerator and she put together a supper of leftovers to eat as we talked.
Sometimes one of us simply needs a cup of tea, but other times we need much more. Our mutual trust and accountability as we walk alongside one another is the bedrock of our faith.
Kim, who now lives in another state, used to think “church fellowship” was a Christian excuse to get together and have a party. “Then we were invited to the group and we thought, why not? As I went through the motions of being part of the small group, I began to understand. Now we can claim great blessings from real church fellowship because our time in that group trained us in what fellowship is.”
In our group, fellowship means celebrating change as we grow from glory to glory.
One person leads a Bible study session for the first time, even though he’s afraid. Another practices praying aloud in front of others. Still another confesses for the first time the heartbreak of a sin stronghold.
We’ve walked alongside one another through the joys of new marriage and the challenges of parenting. We’ve worked together to encourage struggling relationships and to sort through diverging opinions.
Meeting weekly gets us all together for fellowship, Bible study, and prayer. Beyond that we make the time to interact frequently. Some get together for one-on-one prayer and accountability. Families invite one another to share a meal and talk about life. We connect via e-mails and texts for prayer requests, updates, and encouragement.
Commitment carries us through brokenness, disappointments, failures, and sin struggles, not because our group is different from anyone else, but precisely because we are like everyone else. We need Jesus. We need help meeting the needs of a lost world. We need a soft place to fall when we are the ones broken.
Amanda was having a difficult pregnancy, so she was seeing a specialist. We listened to her tell us the remainder of the pregnancy would have to be spent on bed rest.
She turned toward me, her eyes brimming with tears.
“We can do this,” I said softly. “Whatever comes, we do it together. It’s what our small group does.”
And we did. As a group we kept the family fed, the house clean, and their spirits lifted. We shifted our weekly meetings to their apartment and even helped move them to a different house.
The experience was a pivotal moment in our group’s journey together. We discovered that as we meet each others’ needs, we learn habits of compassion that spill over into the rest of the world.
Tim said that focus on ministry is what’s kept us going for so many years. “There has always been an assumption in our small group that the individuals are involved in ministry and mission. We all have an eye out for God-given opportunities. Sometimes families come into our group who are not actively involved in ministry. They either don’t last long or the missional mindset rubs off on them.”
Over the years we’ve worked together in prison ministry, church planting, aid to the poor, campus ministry, and more.
We are called to go into the world, binding up the brokenhearted and sharing the gospel. We’re called to assemble with the saints for the same purpose: to practice teaching, studying, loving, comforting, and working together.
Our gatherings often include brainstorming together for an individual’s specific ministry situation. We talk about creative ways to equip the saints and to evangelize in the workplace. Living peacefully and purposefully in the world goes much easier when we think it through together.
As a group we’re able to provide backup when others need to stretch their schedules or finances to fulfill God’s opportunities. Babysitting, cooking, house cleaning, and repairs are frequently done to assist one another so that ministries don’t overwhelm anyone.
Our group has stayed close even as we have moved apart.
God has his own ways of causing us to dig deeper, reach out further, and pray harder. In his timing, he moves people into our group and out of the group, spreading our faith, prayers, and commitment worldwide as each family goes where he sends them.
Home is where the heart is, and my heart’s resting place has been with this group of people. They help me to sustain my faithfulness as we walk together toward our eternal home.
Like the apostle Paul, my very heart has been scattered to nearby towns, to other states such as Iowa, Indiana, and Florida, and abroad to Iraq, France, and Africa. My prayer life and faith stretch to include people I will never meet, yet love dearly, as I minister from afar with loved ones carrying God’s story into the world.
Kerri said she finds joy in knowing that others get to be in the sphere of influence of friends who’ve moved away. “There is joy in knowing others get to be friends with our amazing friends, and Christ’s influence is stretching further because of them. When I feel selfish about not getting to live close to them, I think about their new neighbor who has the opportunity to hear, perhaps for the first time, about the real love of God.”
Missionaries Steve and Alesha have stayed a part of our prayers, daily thoughts, and activities, even though they have moved from Missouri to Africa. They’ve stayed in touch not only though prayer but through e-mail, Facebook, and Skype, excellent tools for encouragement and common purpose.
For Alesha, it’s a comfort to know that people we’ve had the opportunity to share life with for a time are still committed to faithfully following Christ. ”I smile when I think of those that have moved away from our group, because I feel that even though we are spread out, we are still united somehow. There is comfort in knowing you are not alone on this journey.”
Karen Ward Robertson is a freelance writer in Columbia, Missouri.
Movies About Friendship
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: “A meek hobbit of The Shire and eight companions set out on a journey to Mount Doom to destroy the One Ring and the dark lord Sauron.”
Beaches: “A privileged rich debutante and a cynical struggling entertainer share a turbulent, but strong childhood friendship over the years.”
Stand By Me: “After the death of a friend, a writer recounts a boyhood journey to find the body of a missing boy.”
Marley & Me: “A family learns important life lessons from their adorable, but naughty and neurotic dog.”
The Way: “A father heads overseas to recover the body of his estranged son who died while traveling the ‘El camino de Santiago,’ and decides to take the pilgrimage himself.”
Toy Story: “A cowboy doll is profoundly threatened and jealous when a new spaceman figure supplants him as top toy in a boy’s room.”
(Descriptions from IMDB.com)