If you were at church on Sunday, you may or may not have noticed a group of friends wearing matching black t-shirts. It just so happened that every member of our community group, which we named Best Church Group, unexpectedly wore our group t-shirt on the same day, completely by coincidence!
Just kidding, it was totally on purpose. It’s been a running joke of ours for a long time that BCG would get t-shirts, and we finally did it, and it was just as amazing as we dreamed it would be. What was unexpected was the shout-out we got from the stage (although we loved it, we really did). We are a big rambunctious group with about a million kids. We are all very different personalities, but we really love each other, and I think that part of the reason we became so close-knit so quickly was because we have made it a habit to regularly share our stories. We annually take several weeks to go individually or in pairs and share who we are, where we come from, what we’ve been through and overcome, where we struggle, and what God is teaching us through it all. And our shout-out this Sunday got me to thinking that our group as a whole also has a story to share. I’d like to share it with you.
The first iteration of our group was Pastor John’s 40 Days of Prayer study group from January 2018. We were mostly newbies, in various senses: new to the area, new to Hope Hill Church, new to faith in Christ, new to this whole small group thing. Since then we’ve gained some people and lost a few due to moves and scheduling conflicts. (Mostly notably, we lost Pastor John, who we like to pretend was scared away by us, but we all know that we simply were not the droids he was looking for.) We’ve gone through a handful of different Bible studies, a number of unofficial group hangouts, several boxes of tissues, and one ER visit. We’re about to have two babies.
Many different paths led each of our group’s members to where we are now. I picture roads coming from every horizon, branching and twisting and dead-ending, but all somehow leading to a bright city in the center of everything. With every new addition, our city has grown bigger, brighter, and more beautiful. It is the community that God always intended for us. It is a small glimpse of the perfect city that is to come. If you have not experienced a life-giving, gospel-centered community group, get yourself in one because it is everything. As Paul Tripp says, “We weren’t created to be independent, autonomous, or self-sufficient. We were made to live in a humble, worshipful, and loving dependency upon God and in a loving and humble interdependency with others. Our lives were designed to be community projects.”
Over the past couple of years, all of the lives in our community project have changed. Faith has been found. Marriages have been strengthened. The gospel has been lived out. And that’s not because our community group is so awesome — it’s because of the person of Jesus Christ. You see, a true encounter with Jesus will change your life. And then it will begin to change the lives of everyone around you.
We see this played out in Scripture over and over. In John 4, the Samaritan woman ran home to tell everyone about Jesus, and “many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.” And later in the same chapter, the government official whose son Jesus healed “believed the word that Jesus spoke to him… And he himself believed, and all his household.” Isn’t it interesting that both of these people were socially outcast from the Jewish community, yet they are the ones whom Jesus called out to? They weren’t “church people,” but they knew something wasn’t right in their lives, and they were seeking answers. They found those answers in Christ. And then they told others, because the good news is too good to keep to ourselves.
It’s a beautiful freedom that Christ gives us, to be our own broken, lost, screwed up selves. And he loves us for who we are, he comes down into that darkness, he joins us in our pain and he invites us to participate in his work alongside him, his work of redeeming the world and bringing about his perfect rule to that bright city.
That is what BCG tries to embody. As Shannon Martin puts it, “Perhaps what every person needs most is a welcome mat, a place where they are known and welcomed and loved without expectation, no strings attached.” We don’t always do it perfectly, but we sure try. And if we gave the impression by our t-shirts and super cool vibe that we are a closed group, that was not our intention. In fact, quite the opposite is true. We are taking applications! The only requirement is that you come just as you are, closet skeletons, shameful pasts, besetting sin, emotional baggage, crappy days, faithlessness, and everything else. We want all of it. We want to walk alongside you. We want to journey together toward the city. We want you to say, like the people of Samaria, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”
Written By: Jess Upshaw Glass