4 Essentials of Vertical Community
by Marty Gravelyn - Small Group Director
"You want me to do what?!" The first time I met with the men of my small group, I was terrified. I knew my struggle with sin was real, but I had never expected to have to share it with others! Yet, in that moment, I trusted the Lord and shared my brokenness with other men who listened, who understood my sin, and encouraged me with God's Word. I was not an outcast; I was not judged. Instead, I was welcomed and experienced the love of Christ through those group members!
God's desire for his people to be in community with one another and experience meaningful relationship can be seen clearly in His Word (Heb. 10:24-25). God promises us so much when we step out in obedience to Him and gather with one another to "do life" together. When we do that, we will witness life transformation in others and ourselves!
God calls us to participate in the process of becoming more and more like Jesus Christ, and He calls us to do it in community. Being in community reminds us of who Jesus is, and what He has done. It is impossible for us to remind ourselves of this consistently when we are living alone!
So when we gather together, here are four things we can do to maximize our time with God's people:
1. Celebrate What God is Doing in Others
"Praise the Lord! Praise God in His sanctuary; praise Him in His mighty heavens! Praise Him for His mighty deeds; praise Him according to His excellent greatness!" - Psalm 150:1-2
God is moving in our small groups every week, in the big and in the small! Make no mistake, there are "God at Work" stories happening every night we meet. When you bring to light an insecurity you've been struggling with or when another group member shares a simple moment of victory over sin, God is moving!
Take a moment in your group to recognize how God is changing people - say a prayer of thankfulness together and encourage each other to continue in the process. In community, we have a front row seat to watch God move in people's lives - we need to celebrate this!
2. Own Your Part of the Process
"But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror." - James 1:22-24
We need to make the group our own! So, how do we get there? Well, we own our groups when we are both committed and accountable to those in our small group.
First of all, we must commit to the group. We need to be excited to see God move in our lives and in the lives of our group members each time we gather. We don't get this if we are not committed to attending.
Secondly, if I'm going to own my group, it requires honesty and transparency from me. We must share with others so that they can see our hearts. Our group members cannot come alongside us if we are not real about what is going on in our marriages, in our parenting, in our addictions. Transparency in community allows us to have people who know our struggles, are there to encourage us with God's truth from His Word and also hold us accountable to making the changes God calls us to make (this is what love looks like!).
King Solomon tells us, "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow." - Ecclesiastes 4:9-10. He speaks from experience. If the wisest man who ever lived needed accountability, then we do too!
Members show up to group thinking, "What's in this for me?" Owners want to leave group knowing that it is better than when they arrived.
3. Be Committed to Growth
"[Speak] the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ...when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love." - Ephesians 4:11-16
Healthy things grow! If we want to grow and become more like Jesus, then we need to cooperate fully with God's desire to transform us. While we play a role in the transformation process, God is the primary force behind our change. He liberates! He empowers! He convicts! Our part is this: We need to trust Him and understand His power over all things, including sin. We need to obey Him, and fully grasp that the power of sin has been broken in our lives.
Then we must act - we must take small steps of obedience to glorify God in our everyday lives. If I'm overcome with anxiety, then I need to focus on taking my thoughts captive through Scripture memory. If I'm struggling with pornography, then I need to humble myself, admit my struggle to others, and focus my worship on Jesus rather than myself. In Christ, we are no longer victims - we have the power to choose change.
4. Love One Another
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." - John 13:34-35
Honestly, it can be difficult for me to love people like Jesus calls me to. It's hard and it's uncomfortable. Why? Because I'm so good at loving myself. Because of my sin, I can't possibly love people the way that I'm supposed to. Jesus loved sacrificially, always putting others before himself, even laying down his life for the ones he loved.
Love is a choice, it's an action. It's not an emotional response to how I'm loved. As I take my eyes off of myself and look to Jesus, I can trust that He will give me the strength to love others well. I can meet with your for coffee to listen about your struggles and then pray with you. I can bring your family a meal while you recover from surgery. I can attend the funeral of your loved one. Loving someone isn't just about saying the right thing at the right time - it's also about being there!
When we embrace these four essential commitments in our small group communities, we are sure to see God move and bring about true, lasting change in our lives!