Why Care Groups? Authentic Community
Living Together in Authentic Community
Being “authentic” is popular nowadays, and usually carries with it connotations of casting off all the outward constraints preventing someone from “true self-expression.” But that’s not the sort of authenticity I have in mind or that one should find characterizing Jesus’ church, especially when the church is defined, not by what is inside us but by what is outside us. If there is any casting off to be done, it is to be the casting off of what is inside us—namely, sin, our old nature in Adam—in order to have more of Christ forming us and forming the community to which we belong.
Therefore, when I say “living together in authentic community” I mean living together in a manner genuinely true to Christ and what he has revealed about us and accomplished for us. Will that mean putting up religious façades and denying others access to the “real you”? Not at all. If anything, living before one another in Christ will mean just the opposite.
God’s Word Exposes Us as We Really Are
First of all, it will mean letting the mirror of God’s word expose the real you, since God knows us better than we know ourselves (Jas 1:23-25). While we look on appearances, God looks on the heart (1 Sam 16:7; cf. 1 Cor 4:5); and his word penetrates to the core of who we really are, so that we might walk truthfully before him and others (Heb 4:12-13). In the same way God’s word, “Where are you?” jolted Adam from his pretentious hiding place, so God’s word jolts us from our hiding places, and much more than that, shows us where superior clothes lie mercifully prepared to cover our shame (Gen 3:7, 9, 21).
Original/Indwelling Sin Affects ALL of Us
Moreover, God’s word teaches us that original sin corrupts all of us, not just some of us (Rom 5:12-21; Eph 2:1-3). No one person is better than the other. We’re all in need of massive transformation through a relationship with Jesus Christ (Rom 1:18-3:26). And even once we’re delivered from being “in Adam” to being “in Christ,” the battle against indwelling sin rages until Christ glorifies us through death or his final return (Rom 6:1-14; 8:9-11; 2 Cor 4:16). Nobody is perfected this side of the kingdom; and for anybody to deny indwelling sin is for them to prove their blindness and self-deception (1 John 1:5-10).
Even as new-creations, we still need serious sanctification, change, deliverance, healing, etc. To borrow a subtitle from Paul Tripp’s book, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, we’re always people in need of change helping others in need of change. In terms of fostering authentic community, that means never should I pretend like I need no help—that is to think far too highly of self (Rom 12:3; Gal 6:3). It also means that never should I fear what others may think of the real me—that is to think far too highly of others (Isa 2:22; Col 3:22). Rather, the Bible leads all to walk in humility and in the fear of God (Exod 20:20; Prov 1:7), and his word sets us all on equal footing with what it exposes about our spiritual poverty and need for repentance and transformation (Rom 3:19).
God’s Work in Christ Liberates Us
And let’s not forget what God’s word reveals about his work in Christ. Countless gospel truths flow from God’s redeeming actions in Christ that liberate us to walk before one another truthfully, transparently, and without fear. True, the cross exposes how sinful we really are, as God’s wrath consumed Jesus in our place—indeed, we are far more sinful than we could ever imagine. But the cross also stands as heaven’s loudest shout that we are more loved, more forgiven, more accepted than anyone could ever dream (T. Keller), and there is great freedom found here.
My forgiveness before God means I need not fear the self-righteous stares or insensitive comments of other people when I confess my sin. The cross is sufficient (1 John 1:5-2:2). My acceptance with God means I need not look for my acceptance in other people, since God himself is more than enough (Gal 2:11-21). My identity in Christ means I have a status before God that is infinitely superior to any sort of status I may be tempted to create with my own cleverness or to preserve with my own fake smiles, or people-pleasing, or even silence when wisdom would urge me to speak (Eph 4:20-25).
Christ’s Church Sanctifies & Cares for Us
Moreover, God’s work in Christ means I can embrace with renewed confidence that God is renewing my image, whose trajectory toward future glory can only be served by present relationships with others walking in the light (Heb 3:13; 10:24-25; 1 John 1:5-7). Brotherly affection, genuine love, authentic community, doesn't grow when we hide in the dark but walk together in the light of Christ (Acts 19:18; 1 John 1:5-10; Jas 5:16). Walking together in ways true to Christ will mean we take no offense when another calls sin for what it is in our lives. Rather, we will view the brother or sister’s rebuke, correction, counsel, as God’s love for me in Christ, a love that always abhors what is evil and holds fast to what is good (Rom 12:9).
Of course, living together in authentic community will also mean that such conversations are not insensitively forced or come without understanding. Living true to Christ will also mean recognizing the complexities of life together, such as weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice (Rom 12:15; cf. 1 Cor 12:26), or speaking in ways that are wise and fitting to the occasion (Eph 4:29; Col 3:16; 4:6), or bearing with the weak at all costs to pleasing ourselves (Rom 15:1-3; 1 Cor 8:11-12; 1 Thess 5:14). The picture is one in which we live close enough to one another that the concerns and sufferings and needs of our brothers and sisters should become our own before and as we point each other to the Savior (Luke 10:25-37; Gal 6:2).
Praying Such Community for Care Group
I could go on, but even these few truths found in the Bible should give us an idea of what it means to live together in authentic community. It means walking together truthfully before God, humbly on common ground, freely in Christ, and lovingly with each other.
Care group is a great context for fostering authentic community at Redeemer. Whether it be through formal discussion questions in a group setting or spontaneous questions one-on-one, we strive to spur one another along in the faith (Heb 3:12-13). Care group also becomes a context for people to voice their needs, and then for others to pray and help meet those needs when voiced (Jas 2:14-17; 1 John 3:17-18). Whether through conversation, prayer, study, or service, we seek to invest in each other’s lives to fight sin, treasure Christ, and cultivate brotherly affection and service (Heb 10:24; Jas 1:22).
In moving forward as an individual and as a care group, you might consider the following questions in prayer.
- Am I allowing God’s word to evaluate me regularly? Is God’s word the mirror into which our care group points one another from week to week? What does God’s word expose about your relationships with others? Are they built on truth or falsehoods? Do they primarily consist of superficialities or depth?
- Is there any way that I am pretending to be better than I really am around others? Are there ways I intentionally hide my sins from brothers and sisters instead of confessing them, so that I do not risk them perceiving me a certain way?
- Do I fear what others think of me instead of finding all of my acceptance with God in Christ? Whose opinion matters most, that of God or other people?
- How are you and your group members viewing each other through the cross of Christ, especially during times of confession? Are you able to receive each other with the same mercy and compassion you have received in Christ?
- If it is difficult to confess sin, you may need to speak with your brothers or sisters about that further, in order to determine why. What inside you fears disclosure? Or, what about them hinders transparency, trust, openness, etc.?
- How well do you receive/welcome criticism and correction from brothers and sisters? If not very well, where may you be finding your identity ultimately?
- How does Christ’s love and service of the saints compel you to pursue the eternal well-being of your brothers and sisters? Do you desire to serve them as Christ serves them?
Resources on Authentic Community
- Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community. New York: HarperOne, 1954.
- Lane, Timothy and Paul David Tripp. Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. Greenboro: NewGrowth, 2008.
- Bridges, Jerry. True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2012.
- Welch, Edward T. When People Are Big and God Is Small: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man. Philipsburg: P&R, 1997.
- House, Brad. Community: Taking Your Small Group Off Life Support. Wheaton: Crossway, 2011.