Why Care Groups? We're More than Sunday Morning
What exactly am I doing here? Why are we meeting together again? Didn’t I just see them on Sunday morning? And who are these people, really? What should I expect from them? What sort of contribution am I to make? Why do care groups exist? Where are we supposed to be heading as a care group? How might we get there? Should I go even if I’m tired and don’t have it all together this week?
Being committed to the health and growth of Redeemer Church likely means you’ve asked these questions before. Upon entering membership at Redeemer, you were encouraged to join a care group. You were told that care group exists as one of the primary care structures within the church. Yet right from the start or gradually over time, you’ve lost the vision for care group ministry. You aren’t quite sure how it squares with the Bible’s portrait of the church and the Bible’s goals for your relationship with others.
That is why this series on God’s new family and care groups exists. The aim of the following posts is to give you a biblical framework on the church, that you might better understand how care groups serve the church’s health. Each post will make observations from the Bible on the nature of the church, also giving vision for how her members function together and clarifying how to walk out this vision in the smaller setting of care group. A few discussion questions will close each post for your reflection and application. As always, be praying for the following biblical truths to shape you and your intentional care for others. Yet, before we jump to thinking about care groups, let’s get a vision for God’s new family, the church.
God’s New Family
The church is a rather shocking familial community when considered against the backdrop of the fallen world. Sin, division, hatred, hurt, and brokenness have plagued families since the first family, Adam and Eve, rebelled against God. Yet now the world witnesses one family, who looks peculiarly different—even if still imperfect. That family is the church, a community of people no longer living under Adam but under the uniting rule of the last Adam, Jesus Christ. God recreated these people and then united them with other recreated people to function as his new family, and not just any family, but a family who reflects God’s image, love, and grace through their union with Jesus. At least four aspects characterize God’s new family and should shape Redeemer Church and you.
1. Unity in Christ
We begin with our unity in Christ. On one occasion in Jesus’ earthly ministry, Jesus’ own mother and brothers desired to see him. Jesus uses it as an opportunity to teach: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21). His point wasn’t to dishonor his earthly family members, but to teach on belonging to the most important family of all through a relationship with himself. Being a true child of God was not tied to one’s ethnicity or class or abilities or heritage; it was tied to one’s disposition to Jesus. The account looked forward to the day when God would gather into one family people from all nations, because of Jesus’ finished work.
Jesus’ cross reconciles people to God and to one another (Eph 2:1-21), secures the forgiveness of sins for all peoples without distinction (Luke 24:47), and binds people together under one new covenant (Matt 26:28). And as the resurrected Lord, Jesus unites people in one Spirit (1 Cor 12:13; Eph 4:3). All who are joined to Christ experience the same adoption (Gal 4:5), become God’s children (John 1:12-13), enter God’s household (Eph 2:19), call upon the same Father (Gal 4:6), share familial affection (1 Cor 16:7, 20, 24; 2 Pet 1:7), serve one another as brothers and sisters (Rom 12:5-16; Col 3:12-17; Gal 6:10), and participate in the same eternal inheritance (Acts 20:32; Gal 3:28).
It comes as no surprise, then, to see them gather regularly in each other’s homes to pray, pour over the truth, share meals, bear burdens, and meet needs (Acts 2:44-46; Rom 12:13; Gal 6:2; Heb 10:25). They are family. Such a family tie precludes any form of pride and favoritism and cliquish attitudes. All in Christ are equals in the family (Gal 3:28). Moreover, we stick together. The blood of Christ binds us together in ways that no earthly relationship can fully comprehend, even among our closest kin. We’re not held together by our ethnicity, social compatibility, hobbies, vocation, economic class, or life-stage. Our unity revolves around a heavenly reality that we all share in the Lord Jesus.
2. Cross-centered Love
That also means that Christ’s love will characterize our relationship to each other. We love each other, because God in Christ first loved us, the full, tangible expression of which we see in the cross (John 3:16; 13:34-35; 1 John 4:9-10, 19). The cross stands at the center of our love. Our love is not like the false notions of love, which usually amount to some form of weak emotionalism or dispassionate duty. The love we learn from the cross is different. Christian love is a genuine affection for another’s ultimate good in God such that we spend ourselves sacrificially to see them obtain it (Mark 10:45; Rom 12:10; 1 Cor 9:19-23; 10:31-11:1; 13:4-7; 1 John 3:16; 2 Cor 8:9; 12:15). That’s the love we find in Christ for us; and that’s the love that should characterize our church and you.
Love will not passively wait to be asked; it will take initiative in seeking the eternal well-being of others. Love will not make self-calculations; it will consider the interests of others as better than our own (Phil 2:4-5). Love will not keep people at arms distance; it will make all necessary investments to see the other prosper in the Lord and his work. Love will not primarily ask, “Why aren’t they doing this for me?” but “How can I pour myself out for them?” Such love is reflected in the Redeemer Church Covenant, but some concrete examples of this love include things like bearing each other’s burdens (Gal 6:2), seeking to do good to one another (1 Thess 5:15), being kind to one another, forgiving one another (Eph 4:32), rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep (Rom 12:15-16), contributing to the needs of the saints, and showing hospitality (Rom 12:13).
3. Commitment to One Another
In a very real sense, then, we are also committed to one another. We live in a culture averse to commitment. Or perhaps we are committed as long as the commitment doesn’t inconvenience “me” or “my plans” and at least gives me a last-minute-way-out option. The love of Christ produces a different spirit in the church. In the same way Jesus committed himself to us, even despite our sin and rebellion and weakness, we commit ourselves to each other, even when the relationships are hard, offensive, and messy (Gal 6:1-2; Col 3:13; Jas 5:19-20).
And the commitment runs even deeper, because the local church isn’t only a people we love, but a people we are (1 Cor 1:12-13; 10:16-17; Eph 3:10-11). Our commitment to our brothers and sisters is bound up with our Christian identity, with our belonging to Christ. To belong to Christ is to belong to each other. We are very aware that it’s impossible to obey the “one-anothers” of Scripture apart from a commitment to one another both in word and deed (cf. John 13:35). We understand that the Spirit gives a variety of gifts to each of Jesus’ followers, not for them to enjoy in isolation but for them to serve the well-being of the local church with whom they assemble (Rom 12:3-8; 1 Cor 12:7; Eph 4:16; 1 Pet 4:9-11).
Among other reasons, this is why we stress the biblical importance of membership at Redeemer Church and also sign a Church Covenant. Commitment to each other in our local church is part of who we are, and we value accountability to the union Jesus establishes between each member of his local body. We also refuse to pack our weeks so full of maybe even good things, that we have little time or energy to serve our local church. Our Monday-to-Saturday schedule must include interaction with other saints with whom we are in covenant fellowship to support and encourage and strengthen on a regular basis. Even our personal budgets should be mindful of the needs of our family members (Acts 2:45; 2 Cor 8:9).
4. Witness to the World
Living together in this way will then serve as a visible testimony to the world. People will know that we belong to Jesus, when they witness the persuasive, tangible expression of his life flowing through the relationships of his family members (John 13:35; 17:21-24). Our unity, love, and commitment must shine the self-less love of Jesus into a world darkened with sin and wrecked with despair. As family, the church stands as a glowing beacon of hope to the world that true peace and companionship comes only through the relentless, self-sacrificing love of Jesus Christ. Thus, one of the strategic ways we can love the world more is by loving one another more. The fire of our love for each other should glow and radiate the warmth of Christ to the dark and cold world that knows no such love.
We’re More Than Sunday Morning
So, unity in Christ, cross-centered love, commitment to each other, and witness to the world—these four characterize who we are in Christ and what God asks us to continue becoming with the Spirit’s help. When such truths shape us and characterize our relationships, we soon realize the biblical portrait of community is more than Sunday morning attendance. Don’t get me wrong, our Sundays together are crucial to the life of the church (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2). But it’s also easy for us to hide in larger crowds and more difficult to maintain accountability. Moreover, many of the “one-anothers” in the New Testament assume contexts small enough to practice them. To show hospitality, we must have each other in our homes (Rom 12:13; 1 Pet 4:8). To bear each other’s burdens, we must first share them and know them (Gal 6:2). To exhort one another every day, we must remain in close contact (Heb 3:13). To confess our sins to one another, we must draw near and draw out (Prov 20:5; Jas 5:16). And so the examples go.
Therefore, in order to pursue such intentional Christian community at Redeemer, we also join ourselves to smaller groups within the local church. At Redeemer we call them “care groups” and see them patterned after the smaller regular meetings mentioned of the early church (Acts 2:46; 12:12; 20:8; 20:20; Rom 16:4-5; 1 Cor 16:19; Phlm 2). Their aim: to foster gospel community—think unity, love, commitment, witness—that regularly makes Christ supreme in every area of life. In the following sections, we will look at how the early church actually pursued this sort of community. Until then, consider the following questions for prayer and discussion.
- Are there areas in your own life—such as personal preferences, prejudice, favoritism, cultural biases, shared interests—that hinder unity? Would you say that your unity with others in the church stands on Christ or something else? Why?
- If true love pursues another’s well-being in God sacrificially, what would identify in your own life that is keeping you from making the necessary sacrifices for your brother or sister in Christ? What changes will you make to take initiative and invest in others?
- Do you find yourself averse to commitment? How so and why? What are you seeking or withholding by not committing to others? Are there other commitments you make during the week that keep you from obeying the “one-anothers” of the new covenant?
- If you put yourself in the shoes of an outsider, how would you perceive Redeemer Church and your care group? Would these contexts be warm, welcoming, and joyful? Would they be contexts that help people access Jesus? How are your relationships with others in the church bearing witness to the world?
- Have you bought into the mentality that church is an event on Sunday morning instead of a people in the world? If not, how does your life demonstrate the church is a living organism throughout the week?
Resources on the Church
- Clowney, Edmund. The Church. Contours of Christian Theology. Downers Grove: IVP, 1995.
- Dever, Mark. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, 3rd Ed. Wheaton: Crossway, 2013.
- Dever, Mark. The Church: The Gospel Made Visible. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2012.
- Leeman, Jonathan. The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love: Reintroducing the Doctrines of Church Membership and Discipline. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010.
- Savage, Timothy. The Church: God’s New People. Wheaton: Crossway, 2011.
- Stott, John. The Living Church: Convictions of a Lifelong Pastor. Downers Grove: IVP, 2007.