Biblical Foundations for Small Groups

Trinitarian Community

God designed you for community. Since the very beginning, community existed. Scripture alludes to this as Genesis 1:26 records God saying, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…” The word ‘us’ references the Trinity–God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit–which presents creation with the very first, and only perfect, depiction of community. This verse also points toward the primary goal for community: To reflect the image of God. We were created to be relational beings, not self-sufficient individuals who pursue isolation. God said it himself: “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Our core purpose is to connect to God and one another in community to display and reflect God’s image so that he would be glorified and we would enjoy him forever. This foundation for community cannot become reality because our human sinfulness incapacitates us from experiencing this perfect union with God and others. However, as Brad House writes in Community: Taking Your Small Group Off Life Support, “on the cross, the community of the Trinity was momentarily broken” so that “by God’s grace, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, he (God) made true community possible.” The triune God is both the means and visionary picture for community.


The Great Commandment

God provided the means for true community through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and he additionally offers instruction for experiencing perfect unity with God and others in the ‘Great Commandment.’ Jesus explains the Great Commandment in Matthew 22:37,39: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love for God is expressed in worship through studying his Word and prayer with others; while loving neighbors—coworkers, family members, friends, acquaintances—is accomplished through showing care to others through the grace and truth of Jesus Christ.

God intentionally calls his people to this kind of community. Just because American culture seeks individualism and isolation does not imply community should not be sought; rather, the people of God are to know and be known in community with God and one another.True community, especially life group community, reflects the very nature of God.


The Family of God

In Genesis 12, God indicates his plan to structure his people in the form of a family through the line of Abram, the Israelites. Throughout the Old Testament, God’s people are seen in community as family.

However, due to the great chasm between God and his people caused by human sinfulness, Jesus came to redeem his family. Being part of God’s redeemed family requires leaving the old sinful nature and habits behind. Jesus’ invitation to join the family clearly displays his deep longing for God’s people to enjoy the oneness he experienced with the father in the beginning. Jesus prays for us in John 17:23: “I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Although unity is the goal, the family still consists of several metaphorical figures: God the Father, Jesus the Son, and children of God or brothers and sisters in Christ. The ‘children’ or ‘brothers and sisters’ are God’s people, whom he bought back into the family with the blood of Christ. It is through belonging to the family of God that Christ-followers can know and understand their identity.

The family of God is illustrated in the New Testament as a body called the church. The Apostle Paul describes the church as a body on various occasions, including his letter to the Christ-followers in Ephesus: “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” (Ephesians 1:22-23). Paul’s depiction of the body offers a unique and clear image of how each individual exists as a valuable member of God’s family and should actively participate, using one’s spiritual gifts, to contribute to the greater good of the entire body, of which Christ is the head.


The Great Example

The family of God as a body is to be lived out as the Church—all the people of God from all time—as well as local churches or bodies. But even within local churches, small groups should operate within the context of the body illustration.

The body illustration of the church is in fact God’s amazing plan for community! This plan is stated in Ephesians 4:16: “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” A common biblical example of small groups existing in this state occurred in the first century, after Jesus’ resurrection. Following Peter’s sermon to the people of Jerusalem, “about three thousand people were added” to the local church that day (Acts 2:41). Because the number of believers was so massive and because God wired his people for community, the church met in home-based small groups in order to live out the fellowship God designed for them: Relationship with God and one another.

This example of community, found in Acts 2:41-47, shows not only the importance of small groups in local churches, but also demonstrates the activities that should take place in life groups today: Prayer, the study of Scripture, the remembrance of Christ, and care and provision towards one another. These first century small groups had a vision for making disciples, and so at Gateway, our mission is to do the same: To connect people to Jesus Christ and to one another.

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