The Open Circle
To answer that, let’s back up to a more fundamental question. What is the church? Meaning, what is the purpose, goal, reason for the church that God established through Christ? And shouldn’t our Small Groups function with that same purpose?
I know this is a broad question that much of the New Testament and literally thousands of books have spoken to. But it’s very important for us to have a good answer.
What is the church? Why is it here? And by extension, why are we in Small Group with others?
One correct answer to these questions is this – we are here for each other. The church is not a building; as a group of Christians who have committed to Christ and each other, we are the church. So how does the Bible say that we should be here for each other?
The New Testament’s “one another” commands answer that questions for us – love one another, bear one another’s burdens, rebuke one another, serve one another, etc. We are here to help one another grow in faith. We are a family. We are the Body of Christ. We are to share all things with each other. Paul tells the Thessalonians, “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our very lives as well.” (1 Thessalonians 2:8) The Bible has a lot to say about how and why we should be here for each other in the church.
We all want healthy, authentic Christian community at Living Hope. We long for and pursue a relationally healthy, unified church. As Ephesians 4:3 says, we are “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
However, should good Christian community be the goal? Can this be the ultimate end for our church or our group?
The Open Circle is a picture we will use to answer this question.
But Jesus provides an analogy that is even more helpful – The City on a Hill.
In Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus tells His people this about themselves – 14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
What do these words of Jesus tell us about who we are as families, Small Groups and a church? What is He telling us about how we should function?
The ‘you’ here is plural – collectively, we are the light of the world. We are a city on a hill. The implication is that we are a city on hill at night, shining in the darkness, able to be seen from miles around. We are to give light to our general area, like a lamp provides light for the entire house. Picture driving into Memphis from Arkansas at night – what do you see from 10-15 miles out? The lights. And who are the “others” in verse 16 who should see our light? They are those outside of the city, or those not yet trusting Christ.
In verse 13, Jesus uses another analogy for His people – “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”
What is the combined force of Jesus’ two analogies in Matthew 5? What is He saying about us? We will impact the world outside of our community. “Others” will see our light and taste our saltiness.
In John 13:34-35 Jesus tells His people – 34 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. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Who are the “one another” in this passage? Who are the “all people”? These verses beg the question, How will those outside the church know that we are loving each other inside the church? Is that the general impression that non-Christians have of Christians – that we love each other the way that Jesus loves, both sacrificially and abundantly? Are we known for how we care for each other?
What does the culture outside the church think about what goes on inside churches? Gossiping, backbiting, pettiness, judgement and hypocrisy.
So how can our church, our families and our Small Groups contribute to changing that perception? How can we be more salty? How can we be a City on Hill? How will people know that some of Jesus’ disciples are getting together in homes for group every week?
Living Hope has a glorious, God-given opportunity. We are set up to have a huge impact for the Gospel all over our region.
Why did we not build space for Small Groups to meet at our building in Piperton? We were thinking about this City on a Hill analogy, but not in terms of one spot in a field off 385. We wanted salt to be spread out across the area – groups meeting on what has become 40+ different streets stretching from Arlington to Olive Branch; from Piperton to East Memphis. Why? To extend the light of the world into our neighborhoods; to be 40+ cities on a hill throughout the region.
Have we reached that potential? If not, what can we do?
Are there ways we have unintentionally hidden our lamp under a basket; built a dome over our City on a Hill; kept our salt in the saltshaker?